Opinion | I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike


“Equal Play” is an Opinion video sequence showcasing the rebel athletes who’re dragging girls’s sports activities into the 21st century. The article under is by Lindsay Crouse.

This article has been up to date with responses from Nike, Mary Cain and different athletes.

At 17, Mary Cain was already a record-breaking phenom: the quickest woman in a era, and the youngest American observe and subject athlete to make a World Championships group. In 2013, she was signed by the finest observe group in the world, Nike’s Oregon Project, run by its star coach Alberto Salazar.

Then all the pieces collapsed. Her fall was simply as spectacular as her rise, and he or she shares that story for the first time in the Video Op-Ed above.

Instead of changing into a logo of women’ limitless potential in sports activities, Cain grew to become one more standout younger athlete who received crushed down by a win-at-all-costs tradition. Girls like Cain change into broken items and fade away. We hardly ever hear what occurred to them. We transfer on.

Nike has come under fire in recent months for doping charges involving Salazar. He is now banned from the sport for four years, and his elite Nike team has been dismantled. In October, Nike’s chief executive resigned. (In an email, Salazar denied many of Cain’s claims, and said he had supported her health and welfare. Nike did not respond to a request for comment.)

The culture that created Salazar remains.

Kara Goucher, an Olympic distance runner who trained with the same program under Salazar until 2011, said she experienced a similar environment, with teammates weighed in front of one another.

“When you’re training in a program like this, you’re constantly reminded how lucky you are to be there, how anyone would want to be there, and it’s this weird feeling of, ‘Well, then, I can’t leave it. Who am I without it?’” Goucher said. “When someone proposes something you don’t want to do, whether it’s weight loss or drugs, you wonder, ‘Is this what it takes? Maybe it is, and I don’t want to have regrets.’ Your careers are so short. You are desperate. You want to capitalize on your career, but you’re not sure at what cost.”

She said that after being cooked meager meals by an assistant coach, she often had to eat more in the privacy of her condo room, nervous he would hear her open the wrappers of the energy bars she had there.

A big part of this problem is that women and girls are being forced to meet athletic standards that are based on how men and boys develop. If you try to make a girl fit a boy’s development timeline, her body is at risk of breaking down. That is what happened to Cain.

After months of dieting and frustration, Cain found herself choosing between training with the best team in the world, or potentially developing osteoporosis or even infertility. She lost her period for three years and broke five bones. She went from being a once-in-a-generation Olympic hopeful to having suicidal thoughts.

“America loves a good child prodigy story, and business is ready and waiting to exploit that story, especially when it comes to girls,” said Lauren Fleshman, who ran for Nike until 2012. “When you have these kinds of good girls, girls who are good at following directions to the point of excelling, you’ll find a system that’s happy to take them. And it’s rife with abuse.”

We don’t typically hear from the casualties of these systems — the girls who tried to make their way in this system until their bodies broke down and they left the sport. It’s easier to focus on bright new stars, while forgetting about those who faded away. We fetishize the rising athletes, but we don’t protect them. And if they fail to pull off what we expect them to, we abandon them.

Mary Cain is 23, and her story certainly isn’t over. By speaking out, she’s making sure of that.

On Thursday, Nike released this statement:

These are deeply troubling allegations which have not been raised by Mary or her parents before. Mary was seeking to rejoin the Oregon Project and Alberto’s team as recently as April of this year and had not raised these concerns as part of that process. We take the allegations extremely seriously and will launch an immediate investigation to hear from former Oregon Project athletes. At Nike we seek to always put the athlete at the center of everything we do, and these allegations are completely inconsistent with our values.

On Friday, Mary Cain responded to Nike’s statement:

For many years, the only thing I wanted in the world was the approval of Alberto Salazar. I still loved him. Alberto was like a father to me, or even like a god.

Last spring, I told Alberto I wanted to work with him again — only himbecause when we let people emotionally break us, we crave their approval more than anything.

I was the victim of an abusive system, an abusive man. I was constantly tormented by the conflict of wanting to be free from him and wanting to go back to the way things used to be, when I was his favorite.

Last month, after the doping report dropped that led to his suspension, I felt this quick and sudden release. That helped me understand that this system is not O.K. That’s why I decided to speak up now.

People should never have to fear coming forward. I hope this Nike investigation centers on the culture that created Alberto. Nike has the chance to make a change and protect its athletes going forward.

The video led to an outpouring of stories and eyewitness accounts from other athletes.

Shalane Flanagan, Olympic medalist, New York City Marathon champion and Nike coach.

Cam Levins, Olympian and former Nike athlete.

Amy Begley, Olympian and former Nike athlete.

Steve Magness, former Nike coach.



Source link Nytimes.com

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