(NEW YORK) — Kara Goucher, one of the fastest female long-distance runners in American history, describes a “secret world” of professional running in her new memoir.
“Running is life-changing,” Goucher told Good Morning America. “It’s given me so much freedom and strength and power.”
In her new memoir, The Longest Race: Inside the Secret World of Abuse, Doping, and Deception on Nike’s Elite Running Team, Goucher says for the first time publicly that she is the woman behind the sexual assault allegations that led to her former coach Alberto Salazar to be banned from the sport for life in 2021.
“Alberto Salazar was very, very powerful. He was a legend. He won the Boston Marathon. He won the New York City Marathon three years in a row,” said Goucher, who added that as she got to know him, she liked him more.
Goucher said she first met Salazar in 2004 when she and her now-husband were approached by Nike to join the prestigious running team “The Oregon Project,” an immersive training environment for an elite team of athletes.
“We just couldn’t believe this program, all of the money behind it, all of the equipment behind it. I became the first woman to join and I was just excited with that backing,” she said. “Where could I take my running?”
She said she realized that the opportunity could turn into something more and that Salazar could help her get to the Olympics.
“At first I just wanted something new, but the longer I was there, I really believed that he was the person that could get me there, so much so that later on I felt like I was nothing without him,” said Goucher, who went on to represent the United States in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics.
Goucher said that while she made great strides with Salazar and was running some of her fastest times, she rationalized what she said was unusual — Salazar sometimes personally massaging his athletes.
“I had never seen a coach give an athlete a massage,” she said. “And so I just thought, ‘That’s Alberto. He’s just so dedicated. He’s even willing to give his athletes massages.'”
Adding, “It was unusual at first, but I kind of convinced myself that that was normal.”
Goucher said she felt something was wrong when she was in Rieti, Italy, for a race and she said she found herself alone in a hotel room with Salazar.
“He was giving me a post-workout, pre-race, what he would call a ‘flush,'” said Goucher. “If I’m being honest, I just totally froze. I was thinking, ‘There’s no way he’s touching me like that. I’m imagining this. He’s just a bad masseuse.'”
Goucher said a similar incident happened years later while the two were in Lisbon for a race.
“He goes to give me a massage, it was the same situation where I felt his finger was going where it shouldn’t be going. And I was so uncomfortable,” she said.
At the time, Goucher said she didn’t tell anyone about the massage.
“I felt shameful about it. I also felt like maybe it was just a mistake,” she said.
Goucher left The Oregon Project in 2011 and said she never spoke about the alleged assaults until she was questioned by lawyers about doping allegations brought against Salazar by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. In 2019, Salazar was suspended for four years by that agency for doping violations — allegations he has denied.
In 2021, the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a governing body to protect professional athletes from sexual abuse, banned Salazar from the sport at the Olympic level for life for “sexual misconduct.” The organization did not identify the accuser and the New York Times later reported that an arbitrator’s ruling indicated the ban was based on a finding of violations that included two instances of inappropriate touching during an athletic massage. In her memoir, Goucher says she testified for SafeSport about the alleged touching by Salazar and that her allegations were the basis for the lifetime ban.
Nike said in a statement to ABC News, in part, “Sexual misconduct has no place in sports or society and is something we stand vehemently against…. Alberto is no longer a contracted coach, and we shuttered the Oregon Project several years ago … Mr. Salazar did not engage in any doping of his athletes and not a single Oregon Project athlete was found to have violated the rules.”
Salazar also told ABC News, in part, “Any claim that Ms. Goucher was sexually assaulted by me is categorically untrue…. I have never sexually assaulted Ms. Goucher and never would have done so. The accusation is deeply hurtful and abhorrent and contrary to my fundamental beliefs as a husband, father and deeply devout Catholic.”
Goucher says she has mixed feelings knowing Salazar will not participate in the sport at the highest levels again.
“Honestly, it makes me a little sad because I know how much he loves it. I think that’s his whole life,” she said. “But at the end of the day, he should not be coaching.”
Goucher wrote in her book that ultimately her power is not in her legs — but in her voice.
“It is my responsibility to use my voice,” she said, “and to fight for other people.”
Statement from Nike
Sexual misconduct has no place in sports or society and is something we stand vehemently against. As a company, we’ve always taken great pride as a leader in supporting female athletes. We know that Nike can continue to play an elevated role in supporting female athletes and improving their experience in sports.
Alberto is no longer a contracted coach, and we shuttered the Oregon project several years ago. In July 2021, we were informed of a preliminary decision from the U.S. Center for SafeSport to ban Mr. Salazar from coaching for “Sexual Misconduct & Emotional Misconduct.” Following SafeSport’s decision, we changed the Alberto Salazar building name at our World Headquarters to Next%.
Nike does not condone the use of banned substances in any manner. The doping allegations have been extensively investigated and arbitrated. In 2021 a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) panel reaffirmed that Mr. Salazar did not engage in any doping of his athletes and not a single Oregon Project athlete was found to have violated the rules.
Statement from Alberto Salazar
Any claim that Ms. Goucher was sexually assaulted by me is categorically untrue. I am deeply saddened by Ms. Goucher’s false claim. I worked with Ms. Goucher as her coach for nearly seven years, from October 2004 to September 2011, when Ms. Goucher was 26 to 33 years old. We had a strong professional relationship, and Ms. Goucher and her husband became friends with my wife and family during the time we worked together. Ms. Goucher achieved a number of professional successes during my coaching of her, but when I became unable to provide the coaching and support that Ms. Goucher needed to achieve her goals, Ms. Goucher left and retained another coach. I have never sexually assaulted Ms. Goucher and never would have done so. The accusation is deeply hurtful and abhorrent and contrary to my fundamental beliefs as a husband, father and deeply devout Catholic.
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