Salazar, who was found guilty of doping violations following a four-year investigation from the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), told Cain she was the most talented athlete he had ever seen when she joined Nike's Oregon Project at 16. He is appealing the agency’s decision. Nike president Mark Parker said USADA's report found no evidence of performance-enhancing drugs being used on or by Salazar's athletes and added that the company would support him in his appeal process.
Tipped for superstardom, Cain qualified for the 2013 world championships at 17 before, in her words, her body was "destroyed" by the system in place at Nike.
“I joined Nike because I wanted to be the best female athlete ever," she explained to the New York Times. "Instead I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike."
Cain said the system was "designed by and for men", and she she was encouraged that "to get better, I had to get thinner... and thinner... and thinner”. She says she developed osteoporosis as a result of the demands from an all-male staff at Nike, missing her period for three years and breaking five bones, which ultimately led her to self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
“Alberto was constantly trying to get me to lose weight. He created an arbitrary number of 114lbs and he would usually weigh me in front of my team-mates and publicly shame me if I wasn’t hitting weight. He wanted to give me birth control pills and diuretics to lose weight.
“I felt so scared and alone and I felt so trapped and I started to have suicidal thoughts. I started to cut myself. Some people saw me cutting myself. And nobody really did anything or said anything.”
"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," says Mary Cain. https://t.co/CzGsVRQD0m pic.twitter.com/XymyuD5dQw— New York Times Opinion (@nytopinion)November 7, 2019
After a particularly distressing meet in 2015, Cain told her parents and quit the team. She said: “I wasn’t even trying to make the Olympics any more, I was trying to survive."
In an email to the New York Times, Salazar denied Cain's claims, insisting he had supported her health and welfare. Standard Sport has approached both Salazar and Nike for comment.