August 6th, 2012 | Mark Zusman News | Posted In: Sports

London Olympics: The Biggest Winner Who Didn't Medal

salazarAlberto Salazar

He took home neither gold, silver or bronze this past weekend, but coach Alberto Salazar is arguably the biggest winner of the track and field portion of the London Summer Olympics. 

The Cuban-born Portlander, who ran at the University of Oregon and won four marathons (New York three times, Boston once) was all smiles in London when two of his runners, Great Britian's Mo Farah and Portlander Galen Rupp, won the gold and silver in the 10,000 meter distance. Rupp became the first American to medal in the 10,000 in almost half a century. 

The victories in London seemed to justify the more than 10 years that Salazar has been struggling to end the African hegemony in middle and long distance races. (Salazar himself qualified for the 10,000 meter race at the 1980 Moscow Olympics but didn't participate when the United States decided to boycott the Soviet Union because of its war in Afghanistan.)

Salazar, 54, created the Oregon Project, a Salazar-run effort to train and develop elite runners. With Nike signing the checks, Salazar, who has a swoosh tatooed on his chest, created a cult of runners, monitored their diets and obsessed over everything from the position of their thumbs to the cant of their pelvis. He housed some of them in a home that had some of the oxygen removed to recreate a high-altitude atmosphere. He had his runners train in an underwater treadmill:

And he also experimented with an anti-gravity device that looked like it came from a
Woody Allen movie:


Salazar's lab rat approach to training brought scrutiny from the American and the World Anti-Doping agencies, which wondered if his high-altitude pressure home for runners was the equivalent of blood-doping. After several years of inquiry, Salazar and the Oregon Project were cleared of any charges. 

Those criticisms paled next to an event in 2007, when Salazar suffered a heart attack on the Nike campus.  Most doctors suggest that four minutes is the most that a body can survive without a pulse. Salazar's heart did not beat for 14 minutes. (Salazar recently published his memoir; it's title is 14 Minutes.)

For years, the Nike Oregon Project had little success and as recently as last year, Salazar parted ways with Kara Goucher, arguably the most promising American long-distance female runner. (Goucher came in a disappointing 11th in the women's marathon on Sunday.)

All of which made the 10,000 victory that much sweeter. TV cameras captured Salazar shortly after the race, beaming. He was speaking to a stranger and while you could not hear him, Salazar was mouthing the words, "I'm their coach!"

 
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