4 June 2015

BBC claims Alberto Salazar assisted athletes in doping

A BBC Panorama programme Catch Me If You Can has claimed that Alberto Salazar, head of the Nike Oregon Project, used banned steroids and unethical practices on athletes including Galen Rupp, Adam and Kara Goucher. The programme (available here for non-UK viewers) also included photographic evidence from Steve Magness, who worked as Salazar’s ‘number two’ at the project from 2011, which appears to prove that Rupp had been using testosterone and prednisone not only whilst on the Nike Oregon Project, but also in December 2002, while he was still at High School.

“Some people from the Nike lab brought up the lab reports, and put them on Alberto’s desk”, Magness told the BBC. “There was basically the blood levels of every athlete who had been in the Nike Oregon project. I started looking through the book, and came across Galen’s. In addition to the graphs, below every graph, they had notes that [Dr. Loren Mhyre] had hand taken. Under one of Galen’s, it had ‘currently on testosterone and prednisone medication’. When I saw that, I kind of jumped backwards. Testosterone is obviously banned – I knew that, everybody knew that. When I looked a bit further, I saw it was all the way back in high school. That was incredibly shocking. At that point, I actually took a picture of it, essentially to have affidavits in case anything happened. When I told Alberto that I had come across this and was a little bit concerned, he said that Loren Mhyre was crazy.”

David Howman, Director of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), told the BBC that Rupp would need a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) for both prednisone and testosterone. Dr. Loren Mhyre was an expert on cardio-vascular fitness and a psychologist that worked on the Nike Oregon project, but died in 2012.

Salazar and Rupp denied the allegations that they had colluded in deliberately doping. Salazar told the BBC that the legal supplement, testoboost, had been incorrectly recorded as testosterone medication. ‘I am completely against the use of performance enhancing drugs’, read a statement that Rupp provided to the BBC. ‘I have not taken any banned substances and Alberto has never suggested that I take a banned substance’. Nike also signalled that it would support Salazar ad Rupp’s denial of the allegations. ‘We take the allegations very seriously as Nike does not condone the use of performance enhancing drugs in any manner’, said a statement provided to Sky Sports News. ‘Both Alberto and Galen have made their perspectives clear and fully refute the allegations made against them’.

Rupp, who took silver at the London 2012 Olympics, was training partner to London 2012 gold medal winner Mo Farrah, who started working with the Nike Oregon Project during 2011 under the supervision of Magness. Farrah also trained in Eldoret ahead of the London 2012 Olympics. The Kenyan mountain city, at 2,100 metres above sea level, is a gateway city to high-altitude training in surrounding villages, but has also been implicated in a number of investigative reports into alleged Kenyan doping.

‘I have not taken any banned substances and Alberto has never suggested that I take a banned substance’, read a statement issued by Farrah to the BBC. ‘From my experience, Alberto and the Oregon Project have always strictly followed WADA rules’. However, Andy Parkinson, former CEO of UK Anti-Doping (UKAD), suggested that Farrah needed to carefully consider whether he should continue his involvement in the Project. “On the basis of the allegations that you’ve shown me and I’ve seen, certainly, any athlete who’s involved or associated with this group – including Mo Farrah – should be seeking the necessary assurances around the fact that they’re operating within a safe environment”, he told the BBC.

The programme also interviewed former Nike Oregon Project athletes Kara and Adam Goucher, who alleged that Salazar had told Kara to take thyroid drug Cytomel to help her lose baby weight in 2011. Cytomel is a synthetic T3 steroidal hormone and while it doesn’t feature on the WADA Prohibited List, Goucher also didn’t have a prescription for it, and the programme alleges that it is dangerous to take for weight loss purposes. She had kept the bottle given to her by Salazar with his writing on, and showed it to the BBC (pictured).

‘No athlete within the Oregon Project uses a medication against the spirit of the sport we love’, said Salazar in a statement provided to the BBC. ‘Any medication taken is done so on the advice and under the supervision of registered […] medical professionals. Thyroid medicine is not banned […] and I am not aware of any performance enhancing benefits.’

The Gouchers also alleged that Salazar and Rupp abused TUEs – specifically ahead of the 2011 IAAF World Championships. They alleged that Salazar attempted to get a TUE for an intravenous (IV) drip for Rupp. They claimed that the same thing happened four years earlier at the Osaka World Championships, where Kara won the 10,000 metres. They alleged that Salazar had coached Rupp to say what was needed in order to get the IV drip. “He said ‘we have it down – I’ve coached him on what to say’”, said Kara. “They wanted the IV, for whatever reason, and they were manipulating the system to get it”.

‘I have never coached an athlete to manipulate testing procedures or undermine the rules that govern our sport […] and follow the process for TUEs’, read Salazar’s statement to the BBC. “I had a conversation with Galen in 2011, and he told me how tired he was, and how excited he was for the season to be over”, said Kara. “Fast forward one month, and he shattered the American record. That’s not how it works. You have to rest, recover and start all over again.” Adam Goucher said that if it were proved to be true that Rupp had doped in 2002, “that’s almost child abuse”.

‘Any investigation will be a matter for the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the IAAF, and the relevant information shall be passed to them’, read a WADA statement issued this morning. USADA and the IAAF have yet to issue a statement. “The news tonight reflects the challenge we face to ensure athletes and sports events in the UK are protected from doping”, said UK Anti-Doping CEO Nicole Sapstead in a statement issued yesterday. “Exposing doping athletes and their support network is a responsibility that rests with everyone involved in sport”.

The BBC Panorama programme was put together by Mark Daly, an amateur triathlete and investigative journalist, Gavin Millar QC of Matrix Chambers advised the programme makers. As part of his investigation, Daly also attempted micro-doping through use of erythropoietin (EPO). You can read more about his methodology here. Daly purchased 10 vials of EPO over the internet from China, which arrived disguised as mobile phone covers.

Daly undertook a VO2 Max test, where he scored 58. This is above the average human score of 35, but below elite athlete scores, which are typically 70+. The VO2 Max test measures the maximum amount of oxygen consumption by an individual during incremental exercise – i.e. exercise that increases in intensity over time. Those undertaking the test are given a score based on how much oxygen they use and how long they can keep going.

Daly took small amounts of EPO in an attempt to beat the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP). “My VO2 Max has increased from 58 to 63”, Daly said on the programme. “My maximum amount of watts – i.e. the amount I can push the pedals, has increased from 350 to over 375, which is about a 7% increase. Seven percent in seven weeks. The margins are incredible.”

Daly then stopped taking EPO, so that his body would try and reset his blood values to normal (known as the ‘washout’ phase). Fourteen weeks worth of blood values were sent off to a source within the anti-doping system, who put them through the ABP system. “I received your results today, and I have looked at them, and there has been no adverse analytical finding”, said Carsten Lundby, a Professor of Physiology at the University of Zurich and anti-doping expert, who verified the results. “You seem to have passed the test, while at the same time using EPO”. When a similar experiment was carried out by France Télévisions earlier this year, WADA said that it would have caught the five ‘complete’ profiles produced in the documentary.

‘We acknowledge that the programme also raises questions regarding the ability of athletes to dope by taking minimal amounts of performance enhancing substances without testing positive, otherwise known as micro-dosing’, read today’s WADA statement. ‘Due to short detection periods for EPO and certain other banned substances, we now know that tests need to be carried out before competition and in certain circumstances overnight (from 11:00pm – 06:00am) as is set out in WADA’s revised International Standard for Testing. While the programme suggests that the journalist, through his experiment, was able to enhance his performance without recording an adverse analytical finding (AAF), we haven’t been provided any information that would validate this allegation nor is there anything in the programme which would indicate that his profile would have “beaten” the ABP programme.’

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