A former teenage athletics prodigy whose career took off after signing with Nike has made explosive claims of ‘physical and emotional abuse’ at the hands of her trainer.
Mary Cain signed with Nike’s ill-fated ‘Oregon Project’, opting to skip a college career and turn professional almost immediately after graduating high school.
The New York native shot to prominence after becoming the youngest US athlete ever to compete at an IAAF World Championships, when she made the final of the 1500m in Moscow in 2013.
Cain’s performance in Moscow lead to her signing with Nike, and saw her placed under the tutelage of then-renowned athletics coach Alberto Salazar.
But on Friday, in a shocking seven-minute video published by the New York Times, Cain described a pattern of abuse that led her to self-harm, an eating disorder and five broken bones.
Salazar has since been discredited, after he was banned for four years by WADA for various doping offences.
Coach would ‘publicly shame’ runner in front of teammates
In the New York Times video, Cain detailed the manner in which Salazar’s methods ultimately caused her performance and, more importantly, her physical and mental health to decline.
The 23-year-old said Salazar set an ‘arbitrary’ weight goal of 51.7 kilograms for her, and would admonish her in front of her teammates if she didn’t meet the target.
"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
“Alberto was constantly trying to get me to lose weight,” she said.
“He created an arbitrary number of 114 pounds (51.7kg) and he would usually weigh me in front of my teammates and publicly shame me if I wasn’t hitting weight.”
Cain said the Nike-employed all-male coaching team’s overly rigorous training program, coupled with their insistence on her meeting the weight-loss goal, resulted in her not getting her period for three years and caused her body to develop and oestrogen deficiency.
As a result, Cain broke five different bones because she lacked strength.
“I felt so scared and alone and I felt so trapped and I started to have suicidal thoughts,” Cain said.
“I started to cut myself. Some people saw me cutting myself. And nobody really did anything or said anything.”