Alberto Salazar, coach of some of the world's leading long distance runners, has been banned for four years from the sport for doping violations, the US Anti-Doping Agency announced late Monday.
The penalty stemmed from violations including testosterone trafficking, tampering with the doping control process and administering improper infusions of L-carnitine, a natural substance that converts fat into energy, the anti-doping agency said in a statement.
Salazar was notified in 2017 that he had violated the doping rules and challenged USADA's findings, according to an anti-doping officer familiar with the case who spoke on condition of anonymity. The case was heard in arbitration last year and the ban was imposed by an independent arbitration panel.
As coach of the Nike Oregon Project, Salazar, 61, coached stars such as Britain's Mo Farah, a four-time Olympic track champion; Galen Rupp, the leading American marathon runner; and Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, who set a world record for women's mile in July and over the weekend finished first in the 10,000 meters at the Doha World Athletics Championships in Qatar.
"I'm shocked by the result today," Salazar said in a statement published on the Nike Oregon Project website. He said he has always followed World Anti-Doping Agency rules and plans to appeal the ban, presumably to the International Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Jeffrey Brown, a Houston endocrinologist who worked with Salazar, also received a four-year ban, USADA said. Both denied irregularities. Brown did not immediately respond to attempts to reach them on Monday.
Travis Tygart, chief executive of USADA, said in a statement that Salazar and Brown "demonstrated that winning was more important than the health and well-being of the athletes they swore to protect."
In a statement issued on Monday, a Nike spokesman said: “Today's decision has nothing to do with the administration of banned substances to any Project Oregon athlete. As the panel noted, they were impressed by how much care Alberto took to ensure he was complying with the World Anti-Doping Code. We support Alberto in his decision to appeal and wish him every measure of due process required by the rules. Nike does not tolerate the use of prohibited substances in any way. "
Salazar's ban is the latest scandal in track and field, where so many doping violations have occurred over the years that all the impressive performances bring immediate suspicion to those involved in the sport.
Hassan issued a Doha statement expressing shock at the discovery as he prepared to compete in the world championship.
"This research is focused on the period prior to my entry into Project Oregon and therefore has nothing to do with me," she said. "I was aware of the ongoing investigations when I joined the team and have always had a clear conscience, knowing that we are being closely monitored by Usada and WADA."
While the credibility of long-distance racing and Nike's involvement are under scrutiny, the achievements of Farah, who won the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and Rupp, who finished second in the 10,000 meters at the London 2012 Olympic Games and third at the Rio 2016 Games Marathon. Hassan's recent world record will certainly also be examined.
Farah is no longer trained by Salazar. He and Rupp vigorously denied violating the rules against the use of prohibited substances.
Salazar was once one of the best marathon runners in the world, with three wins in New York (1980-82) and, most famously, one in Boston (1982). A fierce competitor known to always run as hard as he could almost died after straining hard on a steamy day at the 1978 Falmouth Road Race.
His career mysteriously hit a wall in the mid-1980s, and he eventually struggled with injury and depression. Salazar eventually became Nike's sports marketing executive and in 2001 helped form the Nike Oregon Project, a training program with the explicit goal of making American distance runners competitive again at major international competitions. Their athletes have had sporadic success. Many left the critical project of Salazar's techniques. He has been suffering from heart problems for years and has often talked about the fragility of life.
Along with his coaching skills, Salazar became known for operating in a gray area, using unconventional methods and forcing the envelope of what would be allowed under the doping rules.
A 2015 report from BBC and ProPublica detailed claims that he had tried testosterone, a banned steroid, and pressured athletes to use substances like thyroid and asthma drugs that they did not need for medical purposes in an attempt to improve performance.
The 2015 report also described an accusation from a former Salazar training associate that he had used his son Alex as a "guinea pig" to test supplements and that his son had also admitted to testing testosterone gel applications.
In a rebuttal to the report, Salazar acknowledged having tested a testosterone gel on his children. But he said it was just an experiment to see if runners could be sabotaged in a positive doping test if someone smuggled a prohibited substance into them.
Announcing the ban on Monday, referees wrote that Salazar and Brown sought to improve athletes' performance "with a particular interest in increasing testosterone levels."
Matt Hart is a freelance journalist whose work has been published in The Atlantic, National Geographic and Outside magazine. He is currently working on a book about the Nike Oregon Project.