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Kara Goucher: A Track And Field Whistleblower

Kara Goucher, who used to run for coach Alberto Salazar, was one of the first athletes to level doping allegations against him.

She paid close attention last week when the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) banned Salazar from track and field for four years. The agency said Salazar’s punishment was for “orchestrating and facilitating prohibited doping conduct” as head coach of the Nike Oregon Project, a camp designed primarily to develop U.S. endurance athletes.

He denied the allegations and plans to appeal, but for Goucher, the result of the investigation is a vindication of sorts. She says she has paid a price for being a whistleblower.

“You know, a lot of people think that I am a liar, that my husband is a liar, but the evidence is there that he broke the rules,” Goucher tells Here & Now’s Tonya Mosley.

USADA said that Salazar trafficked banned performance-enhancing substance testosterone to multiple athletes. Goucher’s experience was similar but not exactly the same.

“He had given me a prescription drug that I did not have a prescription for,” she says, “and told me to take it to lose weight in an effort to enhance my performance and that made me very uncomfortable. In the months that followed, I saw teammates getting IVs for hydration which is against the rules.”

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That was enough to cause Goucher to stop running for Salazar in 2011. She says she first went to the FBI that year and in 2012. Her allegations were first reported by the BBC and ProPublica in 2015.

USADA launched an investigation, the results of which were announced last week as Salazar coached athletes in the World Championships in Doha, Qatar. He was quickly stripped of his credentials for that meet, yet Nike promised to stand by him.

Salazar is a former Olympic runner and winner of the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon. Goucher says the fact that such a major figure is being punished could be a victory in an effort to clean up doping in track and field.

“I really hope so,” she says. “I will admit I am surprised he was given a ban, with all the money and power behind him, I feared that would corrupt the process.”

She says she hopes the USADA’s conclusions act as a “turning point” in her sport.

“It’s not a conviction on everything we felt like he was guilty of. But it’s definitely a really, really big first step and it sends a strong message that USADA is taking this very seriously and they don’t care how powerful you are,” she says. “If you’re breaking the rules, they’re going to continue to pursue it.”

This a personal issue for Goucher, who like Salazar, is a former Olympic runner. Doping has cost her money she might have earned from sponsors.

In 2007, she finished third in the 10,000-meter race at the World Championships in Japan. The woman who finished one place ahead of her and took the silver medal was eventually disqualified because she later tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Goucher’s medal was upgraded from bronze to silver but that didn’t happen until a decade later.

“I appreciate that they are doing that, but to be totally honest,” she says, “a silver medal in 2007 would have done so much more for my career than a silver medal in 2017 did.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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