Last month Nike faced embroilment in a doping scandal. Since then Mary Cain’s story has highlighted a pleather of problems Nike was harbouring behind its prestigious swoosh.
Alberto Salazar was the head coach of the Nike Oregon Project in Portland, Oregon. As an athlete Salarzar’s best performances were in the early 1980s, he held American track records of 13:11 for 5000m and 27:25 for the 10,000m. In 1982 Salazar ran a well-documented race at Boston marathon known as ‘Duel in the sun’. Where-by he battled side by side with Dick Beardsley.
He is also a convicted doper, currently serving a 4 year ban. The elite teams at the Nike HQ have also been dismantled. Salazar was notorious for a win at all cost culture.
The doping scandal
Following on, the chief executive of Nike (Mark Parker) resigned. Parker had been in charge for 13 years, John Donahoe will succeed him. Over 10 years ago Parker had been involved in testing a testosterone gel, AndroGel at Nike. Taking testosterone is forbidden, it illegally enhances performance. Parker’s response during this testing was “it will be interesting to determine the minimal amount of topical male hormone required to create a positive test.” Recently a Nike spokesman said that Salazar had performed the test because he was concerned that someone could run testosterone on Nike runners and cause them to test positive. Apparently Parker was unaware these tests were outside of the rules especially as a medical doctor was involved, on the contrary he believed Alberto was attempting to prevent doping of his athletes.
A further illegal string of experiments Parker was involved in involved L-carnitine. L-canitine helps the body convert fat into energy. Derived from an amino acid it helps transport long chain fatty acids into the mitochondria to be burned and produce energy. This is legal, up to a certain limit. Small means would constitute around 50mL in a 6 hour period. Salazar stretched this limited which was not allowed.
WADA guidelines state: injections via a syringe are permitted provided the injected substance is not prohibited, the volume does not exceed 50mL and the intravenous injections are given at intervals equal to or greater than 6 hours. It was these rules Nike violated. It has been reported that experiments were being run on their chief scientist, Steve Magness. Magness was a competitive runner as well as the chief scientist, he was the guinea pig and results were reported to Parker. Parker still denies this.
The second fall out. http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYvhKDHsWRE
On the 7th Novemeber Mary Cain published her story with the New York Times. “I was the fastest girl in America, until I joined Nike.” In 2013 she was the youngest American track and field athlete to make a World Championship team, she was 17. Alberto told her she was the best athlete he had ever seen.
Last spring I told Alberto I wanted to work with him again – only him – because when we let people emotionally break us, we crave their approval more than anything.
Science moving forwards
Instead of flourishing within the world’s leading track and field program Cain endured multiple stress fractures, began self- harming and had suicidal thoughts. Science is beginning to learn more about women, for decades it has been easier to just test men due to the menstrual cycle effectively giving women 4 different physiologies throughout the month. Understanding your physiology is an important part of being an athlete. More resources are becoming available to women such as the book Roar by Dr Stacy Sims and the app FitrWoman.
Athletes coming forwards
Since Cain’s braved the media with her story many other athletes from the Nike Oregon project have come forwards. Including: Kara Goucher, Allyson Felix, Alyson Montano, Gracie Gold, Lauren Fleshman, Cam Levins, Amy Yoder Begley, Steve Magness. All very talented individuals with sad stories of their experiences at Nike.
Calls for a 3rd party investigation
Athletes are calling for an external third party investigation into what went on Nike HQ. The checks and balances are clearly out of whack within the organisation, it is time to hold people to account. For example Darren Treasure was known as Alberto’s right hand man. He had the credentials PhD – Sport psychologist next to his name at Nike HQ, although he was in fact not a licensed psychologist.
Earlier this year Nike hit headlines due to their pregnancy policy. Alyson Montano, Alison Felix and Kara Goucher drove Nike to make changes regarding maternity after pushing their Dream Big campaign. To the consumer Nike appears to be supporting women however sadly at this time they definitely were not.
Female athletes contracts would paused and their pay stopped during pregnancy. As well as their health insurance invalidated if they do not stay at the top of their game during pregnancy, at a time they needed it most. Nike knew this was wrong and therefore implement a non-disclosure agreement regarding this topic. This prevented women changing policy.
Nike have since changed their policy. “If the athlete becomes pregnant Nike may not apply any performance related reductions for a consecutive period of 18 months, beginning 8 months prior to the athletes due date. During such period Nike may not apply any right of termination as a result of the athlete not competing due to pregnancy.” Still sounds like a pretty tight turn around but it’s a start.
Breaking 2 Project
Back in November 2016 Nike announced they would be striving to break the 2 hour marathon barrier. Every area of sports science was covered, it was decided the event would be held on the Formula One Autodromo Nazionale Monza race track in Italy on the 6th May 2017. The 2 hour barrier was not broken, Eluid came closest clocking a time of 2:00:25.
On the 12th October 2019 Kipchoge did smash the 2 hour mark with a time of 1:59:40. This time will not be recognised as an official world record as it was heavily manufactured with the help of lasers, pacers and was free from normal race dynamics. Similar to the 4 minute mile barrier which Roger Bannister broke back in 1954, Kipchoge has paved the way for others, no doubt others will now feel able to target running sub 2.
INEOS 1:59 Challenge
It was called the INEOS 1:59 Challenge. The same INEOS who took over as the title sponsor for the cycling team formerly Team Sky. INEOS has suffered its own controversy. INEOS is a privately owned company by Britain’s richest man (Sir Jim Ratcliffe) who is an advocate for fracking in the UK, not seen as a widely favourable alterative to fossil fuels due to the large number of natural resources required and the negative impact it leaves on the surrounding areas. Environmental politics aside let look at how Kipchoge broke 2.
A few differences with this attempt were instead of a race scenario with multiple athletes it was completely centred on Kipchoge in Vienna, Austria in a special time trial format. To break it down, it’s under a 2:50 min/km pace for 42 kilometres or around 4:34.5 per mile for each of the 26 miles. Each of Kipchoge’s kilometres were between 2:48min/km and 2:52min/km – meaning at no point did he fall behind the target 1:59:59 pace.
Key points of influence
The pacers. It is well known in cycling that shieling each other from the wind will save energy for people sitting in. There were 35 pacers in total (with 6 further reserves) who were all capable of running the 4:35.5 min/mile pace required and thus world class athletes in their own right.
A group of seven pacemakers were in front of Kipchoge in a V formation. Kipchoge was placed at the bottom of the formation with two pacemakers running behind him. During the run the pacemakers worked in teams to rotate in and out of the race during each of the 9.6km laps of the course. They changed positions at the finish line on each lap.
In front of the pacemakers were a series of cars. The one directly in front of the runners was a pace car showing projected finish times and carrying a laser system that projects where the pacemakers should run. Crucially, it acted as a large barrier that can reduce drag. Ineos says the electric car had been altered so its cruise control is more accurate than that of regular models.
The location. The route through Prater was a 4.3km straight, which looped around roundabouts at each end, and was repeated 4.4 times to complete the distance.
The weather. On the day, the conditions were ideal for running. It was a foggy, dry morning with temperatures and humidity staying low. The run started at 8.15am to capitalise on the conditions.
The shoes. Nike ZoomX Vapourfly NEXT% claims to offer unprecedented energy return and comfort. This model includes 3 carbon plates and ZoomX foam. They come with a pretty hefty price tag of £239. Other companies are bringing out similar shoes, such as Hoka carbon x, at a lower price point of £159.99. Whilst undoubtedly the shoes contributed to Eluid Kipchoge breaking 2 hopefully it is clear that there was a lot of other factors which preceded lacing up fancy shoes. Marketing is very powerful but if you think hard enough can you really justify purchasing from this company?
Nikes stock began slipping from the 22nd of October. Despite the recent wrong doing at Nike their stock is already recovering. It appears their stock market value has improved over the past 3 days. Therefore over the year this blip won’t be obvious. Parker will be remembered for the huge growth he helped create for the company and its share -holders. In 2017 Parker earned a salary of approximately $13.9 million.
Casting your mind back to Volkswagen emission scandal. It’s obvious as much as we want to care, convenience is king, we all need to get on with our own lives therefore these scandals are forgotten quickly and don’t face up to the damage they cause. It is unclear why people don’t feel there is societal support to say you’re not allowed to lie, especially when there is societal support for making many decisions a certain way yet the misrepresentation of facts, which is a euphemism for lying.
Nike arguably currently have the monopoly of the performance shoe market since the success of the 1:59 Challenge. Innovating the running shoe has disrupted the market which is healthy for the market. It is capitalism which allows innovation to work. For example big tech companies buying little ones, such as Facebook buying Instagram. With this in mind shopping around and considering other options is vital now more than ever with the input of artificial intelligence (AI) in our lives.
Investors can’t judge on outcome therefore they have to base their judgement on the ideas presented at the time. Kevin Systrom, the co-founder of Instagram was advised against allowing selling on the platform by an early investor (Steve Anderson). When Systrom was recently asked about the decision of selling his company to Facebook with the benefit of hindsight, Systrom replied if someone offered you $1 billion for 11 people, what would you say? Instagram is predicted to be worth ten times that price now.
The best decisions in life are not the ones with no negative effects but the ones with the least negative effects. You have to vote with your footsteps regarding which products you use.