Promising former runner, Mary Cain who broke the American high school 800m record at age 17, has filed a law suit against disgraced former Nike coach, Alberto Salazar.

Photograph by: Kevin Morris/Corbis

Mary Cain, the former Oregon Project athlete and former 800m high school record holder has, in an explosive move, sued her former coach Alberto Salazar and Nike for an incredible $20 million.

Her lawsuit details hugely concerning allegations of emotional abuse that started as early as the age of 16 when she joined the team. She says that Salazar was obsessed with her weight and would repeatedly subject her to public embarrassment about it. Perhaps most worrying, she claims that Nike was aware of this abuse and failed to do anything to help her. She says that this abuse had a huge impact on her physical and mental health.

The specifics of the allegations include Salazar requiring her to stand on scales in front of others, ridiculing her about her weight and even commenting on the size of breasts and bottom, stating that they were too big. This, Cain claims, led to Salazar controlling her food intake and meant that Cain would often go hungry, stealing food from teammates in the process.

When she tried to seek help from her parents, Cain claims that Salazar prevented her from consulting with them. Notably, her father is a doctor and it seems that he didn’t understand the extent of Cain’s problems with the Nike coach.

Cain states that this experience had such a damaging toll on her that by 2019 she was suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD and an eating disorder. She adds that at times she even self-harmed. All of which she puts down to her experience in the now disbanded Nike Oregon Project.

Kristen West McCall a lawyer representing Cain said, in reference to Nike’s knowledge, “companies are responsible for the behaviours of their managers…Nike’s job was to ensure that Salazar was not neglecting and abusing the athletes he coached. She added that Nike’s in-house psychologist [Darren Treasure] knew about Cain’s abuse but did nothing other than to “sometimes share intimate and confidential information with Salazar.” She continued, adding, “Nike was letting Alberto Salazar weight-shame women, objectify their bodies, and ignore their health and well-being as part of its culture…it was systemic…for their own gratification and profit.”

Cain broke the famed ‘Nike code of silence’ 2 years ago, opening up about her time at the Project. Cain never quite achieved her full potential through injuries and, many would say, because of these experiences.

In a response back in 2019, when these allegations first arose, Salazar strongly refuted any allegations that he abused her. His principle defence being that neither Cain nor her parents reported any concerns at the time. He said, “Mary’s father is a medical doctor, and both of her parents were deeply involved in her training, competition and health throughout the period she was coached by me. Mary’s father consulted on medications and supplements…Neither of her parents nor Mary raised any of the issues that she now suggests occurred whilst I was coaching her. To be clear, I never encouraged her, or worse yet, shamed her, to maintain an unhealthy weight.”

He did however concede that, “Mary at times struggled to find and maintain her ideal performance and training weight.”

In a separate statement to Sports Illustrated, Salazar said: “My foremost goal as a coach was to promote athletic performance in a manner that supported the good health and well-being of all my athletes. On occasion, I may have made comments that were callous or insensitive over the course of years of helping my athletes through hard training. If any athlete was hurt by any comments that I have made, such an effect was entirely unintended, and I am sorry. I do dispute, however, the notion that any athlete suffered any abuse or gender discrimination while running for the Oregon Project.”