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Allegations warrant a hard look.

Byline: Austin Meek The Register-Guard

Nearing the midpoint of 2015, cheating and corruption are running neck-and-neck as the biggest sports stories of the year.

Cheating built a strong early lead, bolstered by the always-reliable New England Patriots and their scheme to siphon air from footballs.

Not to be outdone, corruption turned to its big guns: FIFA, the human grease stain known as Sepp Blatter and an international soccer scandal involving bribes, briefcases and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Now, cheating is back with a familiar page from its playbook: doping in the sport of track and field. This one hurts more than most, because it involves two of Oregon's most successful and respected figures.

A story from the watchdog organization ProPublica, reported in conjunction with the BBC, accuses Alberto Salazar of skirting anti-doping regulations in his capacity as coach of the Nike Oregon Project. It singles out Galen Rupp, an NCAA champion at Oregon and Olympic silver medalist in the 10,000 meters, as benefiting from Salazar's pharmaceutical enhancements.

These allegations aren't new, but they previously resided in the realm of speculation and Internet chatter. The ProPublica report, based largely on interviews with former Oregon Project athlete Kara Goucher and former assistant coach Steve Magness, brings them into the light.

The report is deep and detailed. It should create suspicion in the mind of anyone who reads it, but whether it represents definitive proof of cheating might depend on your opinion of Salazar and his methods.

Salazar, a star runner at Oregon and an elite marathoner in the early 1980s, is a polarizing figure in the world of track and field. His detractors - and there are many - see him as wielding too much power and pushing the sport in unhealthy directions.

Salazar's supporters view him as a genius and an innovator. Both sides would agree that he's intense, driven and supremely competitive.

"I've known Alberto since he was in college and ran for the Ducks," said Steven Ungerleider, a Eugene researcher who has studied Olympic doping and serves on the board of The Foundation for Global Sports Development, which promotes clean competition. "My sense of him always was an absolute hard-working, clean advocate of ethical sport and doing the right thing.

"I don't get the sense that Alberto would put up with anybody who is dabbling in performance-enhancing drugs."

The report paints Salazar in a far different light. It portrays a coach who constantly pushed the boundaries, complete with details worthy of a spy novel: a tube of testosterone gel in Salazar's condo, medical records secretly photographed in a stairwell, a hollowed-out paperback with pills taped inside.

If you strip away the narrative drama, the substance of the allegations can be described in a few paragraphs.

Magness, the former Oregon Project assistant, says he saw a medical chart indicating Rupp was, at one time, taking a "testosterone medication." (Salazar says the notation referred to a legal supplement called Testoboost.)

Magness says Salazar provided Rupp with prednisone, an asthma medication prohibited in competition, without obtaining a therapeutic use exemption, then had Rupp's urine tested to make sure no traces remained.

Goucher, who left the Oregon Project in 2011, says Salazar encouraged her to take a thyroid medication called Cytomel to help her lose weight after the birth of her son. Cytomel isn't on the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned substances, but Goucher said she was uncomfortable taking the medication without a prescription.

Magness says Salazar's son, Alex, served as a test subject to see how much testosterone gel he could apply without triggering a positive test.

Those allegations amount to something more than unfounded innuendo and something less than ironclad proof. They should warrant a hard look from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and, perhaps, a visit from the Drug Enforcement Agency to examine Salazar's personal pharmaceutical dispensary.

To say the allegations should invalidate Rupp's accomplishments on the track ... well, I'm not ready to go there. Maybe eventually. But not today.

The report leaves little doubt that the Oregon Project pushes the boundaries of what's legal. That's not a surprise to anyone who knows Salazar, a man so maniacally driven that he almost ran himself to death.

The fact remains that Rupp took 21 USADA-administered drug tests in 2014 - more than any other track and field athlete - and passed them all. He hasn't violated the rules in a way the authorities of his sport can detect. Either the tests aren't sophisticated enough, or the benefits of Salazar's drug program are too negligible to measure.

The most significant line in the ProPublica report, and the one that should have the attention of everyone in the sport, is the assertion that seven people associated with the Oregon Project have spoken privately with USADA about Salazar. These allegations shouldn't be a surprise to the anti-doping authorities. The investigation should be underway already, and if rules have been broken, punishments should follow.

Maybe it's a sad commentary on the state of sports, but this is part of the game in 2015. Whether it's deflating a football, taking an off-label medication or manipulating a recruiting rule, the most competitive people are always looking for an edge.

It's no coincidence that, between steroid users, crooks and cover-ups, cheaters are taking the prize as the most talked-about men in sports.

Too bad they didn't come by it honestly.

Follow Austin on Twitter @austinmeekRG. Email
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Title Annotation:Austin Meek
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 5, 2015
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