Health & Fitness

Mary Cain emotionally and physically abused by Alberto Salazars system

Team USAs former rising track star Mary Cain said Nike Oregon Project staff pressured her into weight loss that resulted in her period stopping for three years and caused osteoporosis

Alberto Salazar

A former Nike Oregon Project athlete has revealed how her period stopped for three years and she broke five bones due to osteoporosis after being pressurised to lose weight by disgraced coach Alberto Salazar.

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Mary Cain, who qualified for the 2013 world athletics championships as a 17-year-old and was considered a once-in-a-generation star, also said that she suffered from suicidal thoughts and had self-harmed.

Speaking to the New York Times, Cain, now 23, said: I joined Nike because I wanted to be the best female athlete ever. Instead I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike.

Cain said that when she first arrived at Nike as a 16-year-old the all-male staff convinced her that to get better I had to get thinner and thinner and thinner.

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Alberto was constantly trying to get me to lose weight, she added. He created an arbitrary number of 114lbs and he would usually weigh me in front of my teammates and publicly shame me if I wasnt hitting weight. He wanted to give me birth control pills and diuretics to lose weight.

I felt so scared and alone and I felt so trapped and I started to have suicidal thoughts, she added. I started to cut myself. Some people saw me cutting myself. And nobody really did anything or said anything.

When she told her parents they immediately bought her a plane ride home. I wasnt even trying to make the Olympics any more, I was trying to survive, she added.

Mary Cain competed in the World Athletics Championships for Team USA at the age of 17. Photograph: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In an email to the New York Times, Salazar who has said he will appeal after being banned for four years last month for anti-doping offences denied many of Cains claims, and said he had supported her health and welfare. Nike did not respond to a request for comment. The Guardian has also contacted Salazar for his response.

Cain also called for more women to be involved in track and field. I got caught in a system designed by and for men, which destroys the bodies of young girls, she added. We have to protect them.

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Salazars former assistant Steve Magness, who became a whistleblower, said he had witnessed the same behaviour at the Oregon Project. At one point I was told that I needed to make a female athlete lose weight, he said. When I showed data on her body fat % being low already, I was told: I dont care what the science says, I know what I see with my eyes. Her butt is too big.

There was no adult in the room, looking after health and wellbeing. When the culture pushes to the extreme, this is what you get.

The IAAFs new reforms to the Diamond League, which include cutting or limiting the 200m, 3,000m steeplechase, discus and triple jump in next years programme, have been widely condemned by athletes.

Among those critical of the proposals were British sprinter Adam Gemili, who tagged the Diamond League Twitter account in a tweet featuring a gif of actor Tom Hanks mouthing really?, and former 3,000m steeplechase world champion Emma Coburn, who called them insane.

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