In 2013, track and field athlete Mary Cain became the youngest American to ever make a World Championship team. With this achievement, Mary began to gain attention from many associations in the sports world, one of those being Nike. Later in 2013, Mary was signed by Nike’s Oregon Project, a track team run by coach Alberto Salazar.Once Cain began training with Nike, things went downhill quickly. Salazar insisted that in order for Cain to be the best runner she could be, she had to lose weight. Coaches putting pressure on athletes to lose weight is common in the sports world. He determined that she must be at 114 pounds and put a great deal of pressure on her to get there. He would weigh Cain in front of other athletes and would publicly shame her if she did not meet the standard that he had set for her.
Running became more about losing weight and less about winning races. During this time, Mary’s performance plummeted. Mary said that “It reached a point where I was on the starting line and I’d lost the race before I started, because in my head all I was thinking of was not the time I was trying to hit but the number on the scale I saw earlier that day.”
A big part of this problem has to do with gender ideologies. Sport has been created based on the gender ideologies of men and women in sport are often forced to conform to these standards. Often times, female athletes’ worth is based more on appearance than men and less on performance. In the instance of Mary Cain, losing weight was prioritized by her male coach at the expense of her performance in the sport.
Mary eventually left Nike and decided to share her story with the public. After hearing Mary’s story, many other athletes were inspired to share similar stories about their time with Nike’s Oregon Project and coach Alberto Salazar. Today, Salazar is banned from the sport primarily as a result of doping offenses and the entire Nike Oregon team has been dismantled.
Written by Amanda Gormley