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I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I joined Nike

Updated: Aug 29, 2022

Group project presentation for class made by Michal Liberman, Khuram Abbas, Lisa Lam, Kexin Li.

Captured below are the powerpoint content featured on our presentation day.



●Nov 7th, 2019 NY Times released a video that told Mary Cain’s story

●In 2013, Cain was the youngest track & field athlete to make a World Championships team

●Signed by best track team in the world by 2014, Nike’s Oregon Project - run by star coach Alberto Salazar

●Accused Salazaar of physical and mental abuse during Oregon Project

●“Abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike”

●Coach created arbitrary goal weight of 114 lbs for her to reach - used Coercive power and publicly humiliated her in front of team if failed

●Pressured her to take birth control pills and diuretics to lose weight (illegal in track & field)

●developed RED-S syndrome

●Pressure and abuse caused her to have suicidal thoughts + started cutting

●Salazar investigated for doping - banned for 4 years

●Nike CEO Mark Parker resigned after controversy

●Nike seemed caught off guard and announced will launch immediate investigation to hear from former Oregon Project athletes

●Detriments of a strong culture


Strong Organizational Culture at Nike's Oregon Camp

Nikes Camp had an extreme culture, obsessed with results and success.

Do what is necessary to succeed, nevermind the consequences.

Culture was dictated by Coach Salazar, and all other support staff directed Cain to Salazar for support, meanwhile he was the abuser

Negative Aspects of Strong Organizational Culture

Group Think: Salazar and his hand picked team of coaches believed in the same extreme ideology.

Conformity Pressure: Strong culture environment influenced cain to extreme measure “diuretics, birth control pills, extreme weight-loss.”

Resistant to Change: With a strong culture surrounding sports, and athlete performance, it is hard to change perspectives.

Hierarchy of Needs

“I started to have suicidal thoughts.” (Basic needs)

“I wasn’t trying to make the Olympics anymore; I was just trying to survive.” (Basic needs)

“Nobody really did anything or said anything.” (Belongingness and love)

“He would usually weigh me in front of my teammates and publicly shame me if I wasn’t hitting weight.” (Esteem needs)

“Alberto yelled at me in front of everybody at the meeting” (Esteem needs)

“Because when we let people emotionally break us, we crave their approval more than anything.” (Love and esteem needs)

“The New York Time publish a story how Alberto was training me and nurturing my talent. We weren’t doing any of that.” (Self-actualization needs)



1. Provide support services

Sports psychologist

Nutritionist - RED-S Syndrome



Mental coaches

Appropriate support resources.

2. Include female coaches

Relate to female athletes

an athletic program coaching both females and male athletes must hold both women and men staff. That is because females and male athletes have different physical and emotional needs, their body operates differently.

Role models

3. Change program structure

● From a tall structure to a flat structure

An organizational structure is relevant to the culture minimizing the control some bodies has.


In conclusion

Cain was a young Track and Field athlete with excellent skills and significant potential. Cain was working very hard to achieve her dreams of making it to the Olympics and represent her country internationally. She wanted to be the fastest female runner in the world, she said.

An athletic coach has a responsibility to stay committed to improving the athlete's skills, as well as nurturing the person's well being. As an elite coach, this responsibility triples.

Nike has a superior reputation in the sports world to not only provide the best gear to athletes to train in but to also be happy and motivated. A vital aspect Alberto neglected.



•American Psychological Association. (2012). Sport psychologists help professional and amateur athletes. [Accessed 1 Dec. 2019].

•Cain, M. (2019). I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike. The New York Times. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2019].

•Kilgore, A. (2019, November 9). Nike vows investigation following Mary Cain's allegations of abuse at Oregon Project. WashingtonPost. Retrieved from

•LaVoi, N. (2015). Why Women Matter in Sport Coaching. College of Education and Human Development. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2019].

•McLaughlin, K. (2019, November 8). Insider. A once-Olympic hopeful says her male running coach at Nike told her to lose so much weight that her body started breaking down completely. Retrieved from

•Mountjoy, M. (2019). Relative Energy Deficiency In Sport. Sports Science. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2019].


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