>This week’s Sports Illustrated has an interesting piece on Alberto Salazar, the former star runner turned Nike coach.
In 2001, with several million dollars from Nike, Salazar launched the Oregon Project, a challenge to the African hegemony in distance running. The program brought to Beaverton a handful of promising U.S. runners and gave them every legal advantage extant, from space-age training aids to the amenities of the Nike campus, which include a fitness center, testing labs, a two-mile wood-chip trail and the soft grass field on which Salazar would eventually collapse. But four years later the Oregon Project had produced only one moderately successful runner, Dan Browne, a 2004 U.S. Olympian in the 10,000 meters and the marathon. The lesson, Salazar says, is that “you can’t take mediocre runners and expect them to achieve world-class results.”
Some might instead argue that you can’t expect someone to be a great coach merely because he was a great athlete and has buckets of cash to throw around. After all, a certain Kiwi maintained that “champions are everywhere, all you have to do is train them properly”. Now Salazar is working with Josh Rohatinsky and the Gouchers and getting pretty good results, but it’s not like these runners didn’t have things going well before Salazar started coaching them.
When the article turned towards religion–an important part of Salazar’s life and his runners’ as well–Salazar made an interesting statement. “[Rohatinsky] just does what he’s told, completely on faith. Like a good Catholic, he believes that others are put in authority over you and you trust in them.” Yet every good coach I’ve ever heard of actually stressed the exact opposite. Lydiard thought one of America’s great downfalls in distance running was obedience to authority. “If your coach can’t tell you why you are doing a particular workout, get yourself another coach”, he said on many occaissions. And even if a coach can earn a position of absolute authority, Salazar hasn’t come remotely close.