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Mary Cain: 'Fastest girl in America' sues Nike for backing coach who said her breasts were too big

Cain was part of the Nike Oregon Project coached by Alberto Salazar, when she became the youngest US athlete competing at the 2013 World Championships
UPDATED OCT 16, 2021
Nike is being sued for $20million by former long-distance prodigy Mary Cain over alleged abuse she suffered (Instagram/ @runmarycain)
Nike is being sued for $20million by former long-distance prodigy Mary Cain over alleged abuse she suffered (Instagram/ @runmarycain)

Former long-distance prodigy Mary Cain has brought on a $20 million lawsuit on Nike over alleged abuse she suffered on account of the disgraced former coach Alberto Salazar.

Cain became the youngest athlete from the United States to compete at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, after qualifying at just 17 years of age. At the time, she was part of the Nike Oregon Project coached by Salazar. The program aimed to bring forward the fastest runners in the world to train full-time at their headquarters. She went on to become the "fastest girl in America", smashing a number of national records along the way. Some of the other coaches who have been accused of abuse include Richie Burke, Larry Nassar, Nicholas Federico, and David Riden


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Salazar's toxic behavior


However, she has alleged that she was subjected to Salazar's toxic behavior in 2019 which led her to self-harm and suicidal thoughts. “I joined Nike because I wanted to be the best female athlete ever. Instead, I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike,” she told the New York Times. Earlier this week, the 25-year-old opened up about how Salazar allegedly criticized her weight and body shape. She was also forced to steal nutrition bars from other athletes as her coach controlled her food intake. “Salazar told her that she was too fat and that her breasts and bottom were too big,” the lawsuit reads as reported by The Oregonian.

Salazar also allegedly pushed Cain to train while she was suffering from painful and debilitating injuries. Cain began experiencing panic attacks while training. The lawsuit alleges that Salazar knew all of this was happening and did nothing to help. "Salazar teased her about being emotional, and did so in front of other people, accusing her of being weak because she could not control her emotions," the lawsuit said.


According to Cain’s lawyer, Kristen West McCall, Salazar stopped the athlete from getting any help from her own family. “He prevented Cain from consulting with and relying on her parents, particularly her father, who is a doctor,” McCall told The Oregonian. The lawsuit also suggests that Nike is complicit in the coach's abuse. “Nike was letting Alberto weight-shame women, objectify their bodies, and ignore their health and well-being as part of its culture. This was a systemic and pervasive issue. And they did it for their own gratification and profit,” McCall added.

Salazar denies abuse claims

The abuse claims have been denied by Salazar in the past and he has insisted that he “never encouraged her (Cain), or worse yet, shamed her, to maintain an unhealthy weight”. However, Cain is not the only one making the allegations against him. His former assistant Steve Magness has claimed he had witnessed similar behavior at the Oregon Project. “At one point I was told I needed to make a female athlete lose weight,” Magness said. “When I showed data on her body fat being low already, I was told: ‘I don’t care what the science says I know what I see with my eyes. Her butt is too big’. There was no adult in the room, looking after health and wellbeing. When the culture pushes to the extreme, this is what you get.”

Nike is yet to put out a statement regarding the lawsuit. Salazar was banned for doping offenses in 2019, before which he coached many top athletes including Britain’s four-time Olympic champion Sir Mo Farah.