In Chicago, Salazar’s Runners Stick to a Script

CHICAGO — During the stretch run leading up to a major marathon, Jordan Hasay could expect to start receiving multiple phone calls per day from her Nike Oregon Project coach, Alberto Salazar, who would guide her through her final days of training.

The details of Salazar’s suggestions could be as minor as what color socks Hasay should pack or a reminder to rest as her next 26.2-mile pursuit for a new American record drew closer. But 12 days ago the United States Anti-Doping Agency barred Salazar for four years for doping violations, so Hasay and her Oregon Project teammates scheduled to participate in Sunday’s Chicago Marathon have experienced a wall of silence between them and their now former coach.

The situation grew stranger Thursday, when Mark Parker, Nike’s chief executive, announced he had decided to close Salazar’s Oregon Project, saying that continuing to finance and operate the elite training program on Nike’s campus while Salazar appeals the ban, was no longer viable. The announcement came only a week after Parker indicated the company planned to stand behind Salazar, a marathon champion four decades ago and one of the leading figures in American distance running ever since, and keep the Oregon Project running in his absence.

The ban stems from violations that include trafficking in testosterone, tampering with the doping control process and administering in improper infusions of L-carnitine, a naturally occurring substance that converts fat into energy.

At a news conference for elite athletes at the Chicago Marathon on Friday, questions from the news media were not permitted. A moderator interviewed the runners, including the former Oregon Project athlete Mo Farah, without once broaching a subject he characterized as the “gorilla in the room.”

Later, Salazar’s star pupils like Hasay; Farah, the defending champion; and the leading American male marathoner, Galen Rupp, sat scattered at the opposite ends of a hotel ballroom.

Hasay, 28, said she remains “very, very close” with Salazar, but indicated she had not spoken with her coach since the night before the ban was announced. Hasay’s preparations for previous marathons, including Boston — where she finished third earlier this year — have allowed her to begin coaching herself, she said. She knows how to push herself, she said, and what her body needs. But not having access to Salazar as a mentor and friend has been difficult, Hasay acknowledged Friday.

Asked if she felt tainted because of her association with Salazar and the Oregon Project, Hasay replied, “I don’t feel personally hurt.”

She added: “As I’ve said before, I trust what I know and what I’ve seen. I’ve never been offered anything or seen anything. If that were to happen, I would have left long ago and so that’s what I stick to.”

Farah drew the biggest crowd of any of Sunday’s competitors. Wearing a lime green Nike pullover and flanked by a security detail, Farah at times became agitated by questions linking his six-year association with Salazar to any wrongdoing.

Farah left the Oregon Project in 2017, two years after accusations against Salazar first surfaced. On Friday, Farah said Salazar had lied to him about the depth of the allegations.

“I’m sorry Mo feels that way,” Salazar said in an email, “but I’ve never lied to anyone about anything related to this investigation. Before even USADA brought this case, I made public my views regarding the allegations in this case.”Later, Farah maintained his innocence and said he had never participated in doping while working with Salazar.

“I haven’t failed any tests,” Farah said. “I’m happy to be tested anytime and anywhere. My tests can be used as samples and research. There is no more I can do. I have no tolerance for anyone who crosses the line. I have said that from Day 1.”

At a nearby table, Rupp sat with reporters, hoping to discuss his return to Chicago, where he won in 2017 but finished fifth last year before undergoing surgery for Haglund’s Deformity, a bony bump on his heel that was causing his Achilles’ tendon to fray. As the topic shifted to Salazar, Rupp’s smile disappeared.

Rupp declined to address the lengthy USADA report that implicated Salazar, and he defended the Oregon Project, which, he said, has never had any athletes test positive for banned substances or been found to use them. Salazar has acknowledged distributing prescription drugs to athletes for nonmedical uses.

While he said he supports Salazar in his appeal, Rupp chose to focus on his return to competitive racing on. Sunday.

“I’ve literally had this date circled on my calendar,” Rupp said before declining to answer any more questions that didn’t involve Sunday’s race.

The Oregon Project runners were still absorbing the news that the training program would be shuttered. Hasay and Rupp said they would address their needs for a new coach after Sunday’s event. Hasay described the decision as “unfortunate news” that she didn’t expect.

Though Farah has not been involved with the Oregon Project for two years, he remains a Nike-sponsored athlete. “It’s not my decision to shut down the Oregon Project. It’s Nike’s decision,” he said. “I’m Mo Farah.”

Then Farah’s handlers decided he had answered enough questions and whisked him out a nearby exit.