Banned coach Alberto Salazar’s “obsession” with controlling weight led to mental health problems in athletes, his former assistant has claimed.
Steve Magness was reacting to American athlete Mary Cain’s account of ill effects she suffered under Salazar, who received a four-year ban for doping violations.
“I’ve witnessed the harm and damage that such a culture creates,” Magness posted on social media on Thursday.
“It’s lasting mental health issues.”
In an interview with the New York Times, Cain claimed Salazar’s methods at the Nike Oregon Project (NOP) training set-up resulted in her losing her period for three years and broken bones. She also stated she had “suicidal thoughts” and began to cut herself.
Salazar told the publication he “denied many of Cain’s claims and had supported her health and welfare”. The BBC has also approached the 61-year-old American about Cain’s allegations and those made by Magness.
Nike told BBC Sport that Cain’s allegations are “completely inconsistent” with its values. However, it added that it previously had not been made aware of the issues and that the athlete was “seeking to rejoin the Oregon Project and Alberto’s team as recently as April of this year”. It also said it would launch an investigation to hear from former NOP athletes.
Earlier in November, the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) announced it would investigate those who trained with Salazar.
He was found guilty of doping violations after a four-year investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) and has said he will appeal against the ruling.
- The inside story of Nike Oregon Project founder’s downfall
‘Salazar was obsessed with weight’
Magness spent 18 months as Salazar’s assistant coach, leaving just before the London 2012 Olympics. He later emailed Usada to ask them to look into Salazar and the NOP.
He eventually chose to blow the whistle publicly on the BBC’s Panorama programme in 2015, which is what prompted the Usada investigation.
In a series of social media posts on Friday, he said: “Salazar was obsessed with weight. He’d ‘joke’ about using liposuction or removing your appendix for weight loss. He’d try to get athletes to take shady diet supplements.
“There were other instances. Comments about using thyroid meds to speed up metabolism. Comments to runners about their weight/size of body parts during/after workouts. Encouragement to leave meals hungry and admonishing athletes for eating things like a burger.”
Salazar was also quoted to have said that Jenny Simpson’s “butt was big”, a year after the United States athlete had won 1500m gold at the World Championships in Daegu in 2011.
American Amy Yoder Begley said she was kicked out of the NOP, having finished sixth in the 10,000m at the 2011 national championships.
She posted on social media: “I was told I was too fat and ‘had the biggest butt on the starting line’. This [Cain’s interview] brings those painful memories back.”
If you or someone you know has been affected by a mental health issue, help and support is available at bbc.co.uk/actionline
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