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Star Runner Calls Out Nike in Damning Op-Ed

Mary Cain says company's track and field program is physically and emotionally abusive
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 7, 2019 11:12 AM CST
Mary Cain walks off the track after competing at the Drake Relays athletics meet on April 29, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa.   (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

(Newser) – "I was the fastest girl in America," Mary Cain recalls in a video op-ed for the New York Times. But her message isn't one of fond recollection. Cain, now 23, delivers a devastating critique of Nike, whose training program she joined as a teenager. Her dream at the time was to become the best female athlete in history. "Instead, I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by [coach Alberto Salazar] and endorsed by Nike." In 2013, Cain joined the esteemed Oregon Project, run by Salazar. The problem is that the program, which Cain says was designed for men and run by male coaches, pressured her to become "thinner and thinner and thinner."

Eventually, her physical and mental health suffered. She didn't have her period for three years, she lost bone strength and broke five bones, and she started cutting herself. She accuses Salazar of publicly shaming her over her weight multiple times and of doing nothing when she told him about the cutting. She finally quit the program when she told her family what was happening and they were "horrified." Nike shut down the Oregon Project earlier this year after Salazar got hit with doping violations. Cain says that she fears Nike—all powerful in track and field—will simply rebrand instead of fixing the "systemic" issues at play, issues unrelated to doping. "Young girl's bodies are being ruined by an emotionally and physically abusive system," she says. Click to watch the video. Nike didn't comment, and Salazar denies many of Cain's claims. (Read more Nike stories.)

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