Alberto Salazar is banned but the disgraced coach continues to cast a shadow over the World Championships.
Four days after the head of the Nike-backed Oregon Project was suspended for doping offences, runners linked to the Cuban-born coach were still digesting the news which sent shockwaves across track and field.
Ethiopia-born Dutch runner Sifan Hassan, the winner of the 10,000 metres, who is coached by Salazar, chose not to speak to reporters after winning her 1,500m semi-final in 4min 14.69 secs.
Reigning Olympic 1,500m champion Matthew Centrowitz, who split with Salazar in 2018, also declined to comment after finishing third in his heat to reach the semi-finals.
“I’ll speak after the championships, but right now my focus is the competition,” Centrowitz said.
Oregon Project runner Craig Engels was more forthright, however, after advancing from his 1,500m heat to the semi-finals.
Engels, who is coached by the Oregon Project’s Pete Julian, said he had never seen anything suspicious in his two years with the Portland-based outfit.
“No, not at all,” Engels said when asked if anything had ever given him cause for concern.
“I remember telling my college coach, ‘If anything ever happens, then I’ll be the guy that says it,'” he added.
“I thought I’d give it a year and see if I did well, and if I didn’t and there was stuff going on, I would leave the group and report it. But literally, absolutely nothing has been offered to me, or pressured on me, nothing.”
– Maximum impact –
Engels added he suspected the ban was deliberately announced by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) during the World Championships for maximum impact.
“They kept moving (the announcement) back and moving it back, strategically placing it in the middle of the worlds so it would upset all of Alberto’s athletes,” said Engels.
“Kind of messed up on their part but I understand they were trying to make an impact.” Engels is concerned the revelations will damage the reputation of innocent athletes who train with the Oregon Project.
“It just sucks because the Oregon Project is a little bit more tarnished,” he said. “It puts a bad name on everyone.” Engels revealed he had quizzed his coach, Julian, about reports linking Salazar to illegal practices before he signed.
“When I joined the group I asked about all the stuff going on and Pete said there was nothing to worry about,” Engels said.
“I fully trust Pete. I always have, he’s been a great coach, a great leader and a great example.” Meanwhile one of the Oregon Project’s most forthright critics, Engels’ USA team-mate Jenny Simpson, said Salazar’s downfall should be cause for celebration.
“I think certainly everyone should take really seriously what’s going on with the Salazar group, and what’s going on with him,” Simpson told reporters after winning her 1,500m semi-final to set up a showdown with Hassan in the final.
“For a long time people talked about some dark shadow, some cloud. I’m not talking about a cloud anymore, we have a conviction. That makes the situation really different.