Nike are being sued for $20million by former long-distance prodigy Mary Cain over alleged abuse she received from disgraced former coach Alberto Salazar.
Cain burst onto the scene at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, where she qualified as a 17-year-old to become the youngest athlete from the United States to compete at such a meet.
She was part of the Nike Oregon Project coached by Salazar, a program whereby the fastest runners in the world were invited to train full-time at their headquarters.
Cain was once the fastest girl in America and broke a number of national records.
However, she first alleged Salazar's toxic behaviour in 2019 and claimed he led her to self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
“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,” she told the New York Times.
The 25-year-old filed the lawsuit, which alleges Salazar criticised her weight and body shape, earlier this week.
Cain also claims Salazar controlled her food intake, forcing her to steal nutrition bars from other athletes.
“Salazar told her that she was too fat and that her breasts and bottom were too big,” the lawsuit reads as reported by The Oregonian.
Cain’s lawyer Kristen West McCall suggested Salazar stopped the athlete from getting help from her own family, and believes Nike is complicit.
“He prevented Cain from consulting with and relying on her parents, particularly her father, who is a doctor,” McCall told The Oregonian.
“Nike was letting Alberto weight-shame women, objectify their bodies, and ignore their health and well-being as part of its culture.
“This was a systemic and pervasive issue. And they did it for their own gratification and profit.”
Salazar has denied the claims in the past, insisting he “never encouraged her (Cain), or worse yet, shamed her, to maintain an unhealthy weight”.
However, his former assistant Steve Magness claimed he had witnessed similar behaviour at the Oregon Project.
“At one point I was told I needed to make a female athlete lose weight,” Magness said. “When I showed data on her body fat being low already, I was told: ‘I don’t 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.”
Nike has not commented on the lawsuit.
Salazar, who was banned for doping offences in 2019, coached many top athletes during his career including Britain’s four-time Olympic champion Sir Mo Farah.
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