The Reading Corner: Win At All Costs

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Author: Matt Hart
Publisher: Dey Street Books (HarperCollins)

The Nike Oregon Project was once the highest elite running programme in the world, sought after by many of the worlds foremost runners not only to be apart of the Nike family, but to be trained by the head coach and one most highly sought after track coaches in the world, Alberto Salazar, the US distance track coach who guided Mo Farah to four Olympic gold medals and six world titles. Since 2015 there have been so many revelations about the Nike Oregon Project in recent years that it has been difficult to keep track of them all. In 2015, there was the incredible BBC/ProPublica investigation that explained how The Nike Oregon Project head coach Alberto Salazar doled out prescription medication like sweets as well as describing an experiment in which Salazar rubbed testosterone on his sons in order to determine what amount would trigger a positive test. Then all went silent, that is until in 2017, there was the leaked US Anti-Doping Agency interim report that suggested multiple Nike Oregon Project runners received L-carnitine injections above the legal limit of 50 mL from Dr. Jeffrey Brown and that Salazar misled his athletes about the injections in an attempt to assure them no rules were broken. To top things off there were then allegations of serious body shaming and emotional abuse in 2019 from Nike Oregon Project runners Mary Cain and Amy Begley in the New York Times. This ultimately led to Salazar being given a 4 year ban from track sports by the US governing body USADA (he’s of course, appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport – he lost this year and his ban has been upheld). It’s no surprise then that within a month of his ban Nike CEO Mark Parker shut down the Oregon Project and then announced he would be stepping down from his role as CEO bu that they were “unrelated” to the Salazar scandal. Sure Mark.

Now, one year on from Salazar’s suspension, author Matt Hart has written a book, Win at All Costs: Inside Nike Running and Its Culture of Deception, which details the rise and fall of Salazar’s Oregon Project. So why might you ask is Mr.Hart the perfect man to have written this book? Surely you need an in-depth understanding of drugs in sport, science and of course the sport itself. Well, rest assured dear reader. Mr.Hart covered the Salazar story for the New York Times as well as covering sports science, performance-enhancing drugs, nutrition. With his work has appearing in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, National Geographic Adventure, and Outside magazine, among others. So he’s certainly got the credentials and understanding to write such a book. Much of his book will be familiar territory to anyone who has followed the Salazar case over the years. Meticulously sourced (the book contains 51 pages of endnotes), Hart relies on the leaked USADA report, of which he wrote about for the New York Times in 2017 and decades of reporting on Nike to tell the the definitive story of Nike Oregon Project. There are no new allegations as significant as those uncovered by ProPublica or USADA, but Hart succeeds in weaving what has already been uncovered into a coherent and exciting narrative that places the Nike Oregon Project in its proper context within Salazar’s life and the larger Nike universe. The comparison between Nike Oregon Project and Athletics West, another Nike-sponsored group from the 1970s and 1980s that struggled with performance-enhancing drug use, is particularly compelling and something we, as readers were never aware of.

But this isn’t just rehashing content thats already out there, oh no, there’s original reporting as well which is drawn largely from interviews with former Nike Oregon Project athletes Kara and Adam Goucher and former Nike Oregon Project assistant coach Steve Magness, all of whom served as whistleblowers during USADA’s investigation of Salazar and Nike Oregon Project. Through that reporting, we receive a very different picture of the Oregon Project than the one presented by Nike and Salazar during the group’s glory years in the 2000s and 2010s. It’s revealed that many of the methods and technologies Salazar employed were not based in facts or science, but instead driven by the whims of a mercurial coach that was handed a seven-figure budget with almost no oversight from Nike execs. The book also discusses many details about the Gouchers’ Nike contracts which are usually kept secret from the public. We learn about the athletes dollar value and despite her winning multiple NCAA titles at the University of Colorado, Kara Goucher started with a base salary of just $35,000 before working her way up into the six figures. We also get a detailed insight into the breakdown of the behind-closed-doors battle over Nike’s decision to suspend Kara’s contract while pregnant.

Those of you who choose to read Win At All Costs with the intent of trying to find a definitive answer on the allegations will leave disappointed. But it succeeds in collating everything we do know about Salazar, the Nike Oregon Project, and the allegations levied against them in a manner which are notably more readable than a USADA report or arbitration decision. It must be said though, one of the many features of this book that won us over was that Hart’s not a running insider worried about the credibility or opportunities within the track sport. That gives Hart the freedom to hold the most powerful coach and the most powerful company in the sport accountable for these accusations without a dreamy incoherent love for running getting in the way. Win At All Costs has achieved something which many of these kinds of books fail to do and thats make something very complicated fun and easy to understand, moving quickly and honestly, once you get started it’s hard to put down.

Truly, this is one of the great books exposé of our time and one that we think will change the way many see the Nike brand.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.