Running Legend Craig Virgin Calls For More Transparency Revealing The Medications And Supplements Athletes Are On: “In Sight It Must Be Right”

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Virgin, the 2-time World Cross-Country Champion, says transparency is needed to “maintain the integrity” of the sport; clarifies his comments to LRC after Galen Rupp’s American Record run.

by LetsRun.com
February 2, 2014

In the wake of Galen Rupp setting two American records over the span of nine days, and completing a 5 x 1,600 workout ending with a 4:01 fifteen minutes after his 8:07.41 two-mile record, seven-time American record holder, three-time Olympian and two-time World Cross Country champion Craig Virgin has called for more transparency in the sport of track and field in terms of athletes listing what medications/supplements they are on.

After reading of Galen’s post-race workout last Saturday, Virgin went on his Facebook fan page and posted a message that in part read (full post here and at the bottom of this page):

“Congrats are due but I’m not sure what to think… both Galen and his coach, Alberto Salazar, are definitely making a statement here! Why do this kind of workout after such a hard race…and risk injury or illness? What is Galen taking or doing… that is giving him such amazing recuperative/restorative powers? I have never seen anything like this…but he did it after his AR 13:01 5K last weekend and after his 3:50.9 mile indoors last January. I am sorry to sound so jaded… but after reading so much about Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez’s sophisticated and undetected doping schemes this past year …. I just don’t know what to believe anymore. I wish USATF would release what Therapeutic Use Exemption medical treatments that Galen is on that may give us one hint of what is really going on here. I am tired of rumors about TUE’s and we need some transparency in this area to maintain the integrity in our sport.”

Virgin is not the only one in the sport who believes there needs to be more transparency in the disclosure of the medications/supplements that athletes are or aren’t taking. His post garnered support from some prominent people in the running world. It got “likes” on Facebook from current athletes such as 2:11:30 marathoner Nick Arciniaga, Olympic steeplechaser Billy Nelson, two-time NCAA runner-up Deb Maier, 1:46 800 man and rabbit extraordinaire Matt Scherer and 13:33 man Joe Stilin, from past athletes such as multiple time US 5000m champ Tim Broe, former Cal Star Richie Boulet and two-time Olympic Trials qualifier and Boston Track Club coach Tom Derderian, and journalists such as author and senior editor at Competitor magazine Mario Fraioli and Pat Price of The Daily Relay.

As is the case with most things on the Internet, the replies to Virgin’s comments were all over the place. Most of the comments regarding Virgin’s post were supportive on Facebook, which might be expected on a Facebook fan page.

Craig Virgin at the 1984 Olympics (Creative Commons 1.0)

Craig Virgin At The 1984 Olympics (Creative Commons 1.0)

That’s not to say that Virgin’s comments didn’t also result in some negative responses both on Facebook and on the 14 page letsrun thread devoted to the Facebook post. A Bruce Mackey wrote in reply to Virgin’s comment on Facebook, “Sounds like you are still jealous of Salazar.. he worked harder than most and so do his athletes… he is doing a great job of let (sic) the workouts speak for themselves and psyching out others. “

The criticism and harsh tone of the discourse surprised and impacted Virgin who took to Facebook multiple times to clarify what he was trying to say in his initial post. Below are a few highlights from two of his replies on Facebook. You can see the full replies at the bottom of this article and here and here.

Sunday evening Virgin posted in part:

“There is no question about the fact that some of NOP’s athletes have applied for and gotten TUE’s… and, in today’s climate, I think the sport and athletes would both be better served if it was made public and totally transparent… to remove any suspicion later on from any fantastic performances. That was my opinion today and it will be the same tomorrow. It was not an indictment… just a statement. Galen will be one of the most tested athletes in the USA this year. That goes with the territory and rightly so. We want to know that he did it the “right way.” I congratulate Galen on two of the best race results in US distance running history on two successive weekends. His future is very bright, indeed, if he can just stay healthy… it is usually injury or severe illness that brings about the “tipping point” in any great athlete’s career. I hope he can bless us with more great performances for several years to come….that all of us can appreciate & enjoy. Thank you and good night!”

Tuesday morning Virgin posted in part:

As someone who designed my own training regiment…and reached high results in distance running as a result…from HS to int’l… I feel that I have the credentials to ask that question and not be criticized for “sour grapes.” Hell, I retired from T & F/X-C competition 22 years ago and my cumulative athletic record speaks for itself. I am not trying to keep myself “relevant” any more than what my results… in the context of that time… deserve. But, I am always looking to learn about how athletes can improve their performances legally nowadays. I simply asked a legitimate question… that most all of you were also thinking… if not asking yourselves! I also have been reading about Therapeutic Use Exemptions of medical treatments/products for the past couple years….and understand that several of Alberto’s athletes have exercised this option… but it is all very private and “secret” as are most all medical records after the Federal HIPA law. I expressed the opinion that… after all we’ve read/heard about Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez over the past year….that it would be better for the integrity of our sport… to make this approved mechanism more “transparent” so that vicious and unfounded rumors might not be fueled on a weekly basis… or after any outstanding performances. I would have done that as an athlete back in my day… to stop any crazy rumors out there from gaining traction. …

Evidently, our sport does need this discussion or nothing would have happened like this. I also fear that nothing will ever be done to keep our sport and its records or results “clean/ethical/full if integrity” if intelligent people can’t have a reasonable discussion about this resulting in affirmative action. Look what has happened to cycling and baseball in the last decade. Can’t I wish better for my sport that so many of us love so much? I also care very much about keeping our American athletes competitive with the best in the world. I was depressed about most of our int’l distance running results between 1989-2003… but have been ecstatic about the improvement in them since 2004. I just want this to happen in the “right way.” Is that too much to ask?”

Galen Rupp 8:07:41 Two Mile American Record Finish (Click for photo gallery0

Galen Rupp 8:07:41 Two Mile American Record Finish (Click for photo gallery)

Virgin Talks To LetsRun.com

On Tuesday, Virgin called the LetsRun.com offices to talk to us about Rupp’s performances and the reaction to his Facebook posts. He said he was surprised that his comments had resulted in such a large and heated debate since he’d had similar conversations with associates in the running world who had themselves expressed similar sentiments. LRC pointed out the difference was those conversations were private and this was on the record and under his name and he was a two-time World Cross-Country Champion.

After our talk, LRC told Craig that we were going to write a formal news story about his comments and asked if he wanted to have anything we talked about included in the story. Craig wrote back Thursday night with a long email.

Virgin first said he wanted it to be known that he didn’t state Rupp and Salazar “must be cheating.” He “simply” wanted to know how Rupp could be recovering so quickly and called it possibly one of the “most amazing breakthroughs in long distance performance training in the past 50 years.” As he emailed LetsRun.com:

“I want to stress that I absolutely did not say that “Galen must be cheating”…..as I simply asked what he was doing (in training) or taking (legal or illegal supplements) that could help his body metabolize the lactic acid so quickly….. and restore the oxygen levels in his tortured flesh so fast. If this is completely on the ‘up and up”…. then Alberto has established some of the most amazing breakthrough’s in long distance performance training in the past 50 years….and many people have expressed that opinion sometime in 2013 when Alberto got Galen to run 3:50 for the indoor mile and Mo to run 3:28 for 1500…. when both were established 5000/10,000 racers….that range of speed/endurance is almost unheard of.”

Virgin explained he was trying to express two points in his initial post.

One, Virgin said he was worried that such a tough workout immediately after a race might lead to a premature end to Rupp’s career as it’s Virgin’s belief that everyone is one injury or illness away from being on the downside of their career:

“First I was concerned about his overall health and risk of injury… that might curtail not just this season… but the whole rest of his career… which I know from my own career as well as and other “great ones in US history”… that we were all just 1-2 injuries or illnesses away from the “tipping point” in our career…. which signaled the beginning of the end. Most all of the great ones (myself included) eventually got so good at challenging our limits… that we almost thought of ourselves as “bullet proof!” Prefontaine was struggling a bit with injuries between the 72 Munich Olympics and his own untimely death as he tried to continue to “burn the candle on both ends”. I reached my own “tipping point” in late 1981… due to the combination of a vicious virus picked up in Italy… and a knee injury that became chronic… from over training and over racing. I even believe Alberto reached his tipping point sometime in 1983… when we were still racing each other… and he was never the same again as what he had demonstrated in 1980-1982… but that is only my opinion… not his. We can analyze other great athletes since then and probably do the same thing.”

Secondly, Virgin said he was simply “flabbergasted by Galen’s amazing recovery powers” and simply wanted to know what breakthroughs in the last 25 years might make such training possible.

“I guess I wasn’t as shocked by the 4:21 and two 4:20 1,600 repeats…and if he had just finished with the 4:16 then… I would have simply shrugged my shoulders and said “what a tough stud runner….and at the absolute top of his game right now!” But, what totally blew me away was the 4:01 1600 at the end…. that’s what shocked me….and took me “over the top” which led to my completely rhetorical question of “what is he doing or taking that is giving him such amazing recuperative/restorative powers?” That was 7 extremely fast miles…. in just roughly 60 minutes….3 of which were at or near 4:00 pace!… and 2 of those were back to back.”

Virgin said he’s since been reading up on Salazar’s training methods and believes that Salazar’s long running relationship with Rupp is very beneficial:

“I was not very familiar with this radical approach in training. I have since read more…and discovered that Alberto has been experimenting with this approach to “break through” training for several years now…..his former asst coach Steve Magness even wrote an article about it in Runners World which I had not seen until this week….but I think it has mainly yielded the best positive results with Rupp, Farrah, and maybe Kara Goucher. It sounds and looks risky….. but in an effort to “push the envelope” to get new break thru’s in human performance… one has to get out on the ragged edge some time. In his defense, Alberto did pull Galen from the final 400 meter interval in 54 on the prior weekend of the 5,000 m. AR performance…. and Cam Levins finished up without him. This is when Rupp and Salazar have a real advantage since they have been working together as coach/athlete for roughly 14 years… and Alberto knows Galen so well, but this is one workout approach that is still risky… and probably shouldn’t… and couldn’t…. be experimented with by just any competitive runner.”
Galen Rupp and Alberto Salazar Before His 5000m Record (click for photo gallery)

Galen Rupp And Alberto Salazar Before His 5,000m Record (Click for photo gallery)

Salazar Talks To Virgin And Says Only One of His Athletes Has A TUE

Virgin told LRC that Galen Rupp’s coach Alberto Salazar called him on Thursday morning and expressed his “surprise and disappointment” that he went public with his sentiments and wished Virgin had contacted him privately. According to Virgin’s recollection, Salazar said that only one of his athletes in the Nike Oregon Project, not Galen Rupp, currently has a Therapeutic Use Exemption (editor’s note: a Therapeutic Use Exemption is a medically accepted reason to use an otherwise banned substance). Ricky Simms, Galen Rupp’s agent, told LetsRun.com that Galen has not had a TUE in the last three years (more below). Update: Ricky Simms has spoken to Alberto Salazar about this article and emailed us more details about the TUEs of Nike Oregon Project athletes. More here.

According to Virgin, Salazar stressed that Rupp has always worked on his running form and biomechanics and did a lot of strength work on his legs in the weight room which Salazar thought was a key aspect to Galen’s speed improvement. Virgin said Alberto stressed that few distance runners work as hard as Galen in the weight room.

While Virgin didn’t think strength training and biomechanical form “tweaking” could “explain it totally,” Virgin said he appreciated Salazar reaching out to him. Virgin said he responded to Salazar by simply trying to reiterate exactly how he felt and explain himself logically. In Virgin’s mind, transparency is essential for saving the integrity of the sport and its records given the doping developments of the last 30 plus years.

According to Virgin, the two legends, who hadn’t had a lengthy conversation with each other since a lunch at Nike in 1997, ended their talk by exchanging contact info and vowing to follow up in the future:

“We closed by saying that we would both follow up with each other to try to repair any damage. I will keep my end of the bargain… because I have nothing but complete professional respect for both Alberto and Galen… for what they have done for our sport in America. However, I do believe that educated and experienced coaches & athletes can still have polite discourse and difference of opinions… on different approaches to training/racing…… and that such discourse and polite disagreement can still be healthy for the sport. And, that we all must be guardians of the integrity of our sport… when appropriate. However, mean and nasty postings/accusations behind a shield of anonymity on letsrun.com message boards…. does not fit the description of polite discourse and disagreement.. I still wish you would require people to put their names/hometown on their posting. I also don’t approve of the purely speculative ‘clean/dirty voting polls’ that you conduct about our top athletes. Neither fits in my definition of polite, civil, and productive exchange of ideas.””

Virgin Still Wants More Transparency After Talking To Alberto Salazar

After talking to Alberto, Virgin stuck to his guns and stated people need to be as transparent as possible:

“I still am of the opinion that TUE’s in T & F/road racing/cross country…. should probably be made public…. to alleviate any misunderstanding or unfounded rumors after any superior performance….there is just too much known about the chemical science side of our sport….that can be abused.”

LRC asked Virgin his thoughts about Alberto Salazar’s comments to him that only one of his athletes had a TUE and also the fact that many substances like supplements and the much discussed thyroid medication, that super agent Jos Hermens spoke out about at the Olympics, do not require a TUE, and what Virgin thought about them. Virgin spoke out for full disclosure, but noted some practical concerns:

“I wish they would declare that stuff as well, but you are opening up a can of worms. I presently take Juice Plus+, a nutritional supplement. I guess I would have had to declare that. I probably would not have a disagreement with athletes required to disclose every supplement and medication an athlete is presently taking, TUE or not, as long as it was practical. It might even prevent accidental doping issues by nutritional supplements that have hidden ingredients that the athlete may not be familiar with…but the NGB overseers might know about.”

Virgin noted how as an athlete Salazar was known for exploring every avenue towards being the best athlete possible (editor’s note: according to a Sports Illustrated article Salazar admitted “experimenting with the corticosteroid prednisone in an attempt to revive his deficient adrenal system” and to taking Prozac to win the famed Comrades ultramarathon in South Africa) and then shared a anecdote to illustrate this. Virgin said he roomed with Alberto at the Rieti, Italy track meet in 1979 and Virgin gave his copy of the John L. Parker Jr. cult classic Once a Runner to Salazar (editor’s note: Once a Runner chronicles the fictional Quenton Cassidy becoming a world class runner after he retreats from the world to train on his own).

Virgin said, “Four months later I learn that Al is now over in a mud hut on the side of a mountain in Kenya.” Virgin said he thought at the time, “Oh my God! What have I done?”

Ricky Simms in Rome Last Year

Ricky Simms In Rome Last Year

Galen Rupp’s, Mo Farah’s And Usain Bolt’s Agent, Ricky Simms, Talks To LRC About More Transparency

LetsRun.com reached out to Galen Rupp’s agent Ricky Simms to see if Galen or Alberto had any comment on Virgin’s Facebook posts. Ricky said they did not.

LetsRun.com asked Ricky if three of his more prominent athletes, Galen Rupp, Mo Farah, and Usain Bolt, would be willing to release a list of the supplements or medications they take or be willing to release their most recent doping control form on which athletes are supposed to list the supplements and medications they have taken in the last seven days.

Ricky said they would not.

He wrote, “After your request I checked with Galen Rupp and can confirm that has not had a TUE in the last 3 years.  I think it would be beneficial for you to explain to your readers what a TUE is and the criteria for granting a TUE - http://www.wada-ama.org/en/Science-Medicine/TUE/QA-on-Therapeutic-Use-Exemptions/

“To answer your question about athletes publicly releasing their supplements and medications I don’t believe this is the solution.   Athletes who take supplements and medications declare them to the testing agencies in every test.  If any of these substances are illegal or performance enhancing they will produce a positive test and the public will know about it.  Publicly releasing these medications and supplements could lead to uninformed people making comments without proper background knowledge.  It may only encourage kids or other athletes to take things they don’t need.”

Thyroid medication came up during the topic of non banned substances that athletes take. LRC asked Ricky if Mo Farah was on thyroid medication or had taken thyroid medication. Ricky was clear in his response that  Mo was “100% never on thyroid medication.”

“It is disappointing and bad for our sport that sometimes when a clean athlete performs well people wonder if the performance is real. Perhaps a good place to start would be to not allow people to comment anonymously on your site and others like it.  If someone has something to say then they should put their name to it.  If there is no truth to an accusation then the person making the comment may think twice about the consequences of their actions,” Ricky wrote.

Update: Ricky Simms has spoken to Alberto Salazar about this article and emailed us more details about the TUEs of Nike Oregon Project athletes. More here.

Craig Virgin & The Steak N Shake Slogan: “In Sight it Must Be Right.”

Craig Virgin and Ricky Simms both shared a desire for a clean sport, even though they don’t agree on how transparent athletes should be about the supplements/medications they take. Craig Virgin summed up his thoughts with an analogy to the Steak ‘N Shake burger chain slogan, ‘In Sight it Must Be Right’:

“Do you know the Steak ‘N Shake slogan ‘If in sight it must be right.’ That’s the way I feel about supplements and medication. Complete transparency is probably the better route. I would have had no problem as a clean athlete doing that myself to prevent unfounded rumors from getting started.”

***********

Virgin’s Facebook fan page is here and we reprint in their entirety some of his Facebook posts below. The lengthy LRC message board thread on his comments is here.


Virgin’s Initial Facebook Post On Sunday Morning:

Well, American Distance Superstar Galen Rupp was at it again last night. For the 2nd weekend in a row…. he set a US Nat’l record… running an indoor 2-miles in 8:07.41 in Boston! In and of itself… amazing… but he then rested for only 15 minutes (signing autographs?!?) and then commenced a track workout…5 x 1 mile intervals…in 4:21, 4:20, 4:20, 4:16, and then finishing up with an unbelievable 4:01! All documented by FloTrack website. Congrats are due but I’m not sure what to think… both Galen and his coach, Alberto Salazar, are definitely making a statement here! Why do this kind of workout after such a hard race…and risk injury or illness? What is Galen taking or doing… that is giving him such amazing recuperative/restorative powers? I have never seen anything like this…but he did it after his AR 13:01 5K last weekend and after his 3:50.9 mile indoors last January. I am sorry to sound so jaded… but after reading so much about Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez’s sophisticated and undetected doping schemes this past year …. I just don’t know what to believe anymore. I wish USATF would release what Therapeutic Use Exemption medical treatments that Galen is on that may give us one hint of what is really going on here. I am tired of rumors about TUE’s and we need some transparency in this area to maintain the integrity in our sport.”

Virgin’s 2nd Facebook Post On Sunday Evening:

Thanks everyone for what has been an interesting and informative day of posting and reading the various responses to what I originally wrote as a congratulations to Galen Rupp on his second AR in just a week. I meant no disrespect for Galen or to his coach and my old friend Alberto Salazar….I did have some questions about both the 2-mile time but especially about the amazing workout that Galen did just 15 minutes of autograph signing (according to Flo Track) later after the race. I know what it is ,physically and mentally, to run an American record breaking and personal PR race… and what it takes out of you….and I know what it is to stand around and sign autographs for folks after the race…and how much it tightens you up….and then to go do a workout like that immediately afterward was somewhat controversial as I pointed out. Both Galen’s race and workout were simply amazing…. I don’t care whether 3 of them were at 10K pace and 1 a little faster. That final 4:01 1600 is faster than his 2-mile race pace. His 800/400 workout after the AR 13:01 5K was also super impressive…and revealing. I think it was/is fair game to politely question the wisdom of or veracity of such a hard workout right after a PR race…by anyone that is credible in the sport. I only wrote… what most all of you were probably thinking. I said that it is truly sad… that when an athlete gets to this record setting level… in this day and age… that we are all jaded from recent experience… to wonder if it was “natural” or “aided.” There is no question about the fact that some of NOP’s athletes have applied for and gotten TUE’s… and, in today’s climate, I think the sport and athletes would both be better served if it was made public and totally transparent… to remove any suspicion later on from any fantastic performances. That was my opinion today and it will be the same tomorrow. It was not an indictment… just a statement. Galen will be one of the most tested athletes in the USA this year. That goes with the territory and rightly so. We want to know that he did it the “right way.” I congratulate Galen on two of the best race results in US distance running history on two successive weekends. His future is very bright, indeed, if he can just stay healthy… it is usually injury or severe illness that brings about the “tipping point” in any great athlete’s career. I hope he can bless us with more great performances for several years to come….that all of us can appreciate & enjoy. Thank you and good night!

Virgin’s Third Post On Facebook – Tuesday Morning

Thank you, Gary. A week ago I put a post on my FB page (6000+ followers) that saluted Galen Rupp for his indoor AR 5000 race…. and saluted/congratulated him and his coach as best I could in so few words. Nearly 5500 people saw it. 36 hours ago I did the same thing again…. but this time I expressed astonishment/reservations… not about his 8:07 2-mile (which I think is totally conceivable after a 13:01 5K)… but that I found his 5 x 1600 workout just 15:00 after his AR race result to be a bit unbelievable (but not impossible!) especially when it ended in a 4:01…and I expressed concern over whether he was risking illness or injury (that might curtail either his season or career) by doing this…. and simply asked rhetorically what Galen was doing or taking to be able to “recover” so fast. As someone who designed my own training regiment…and reached high results in distance running as a result…from HS to int’l… I feel that I have the credentials to ask that question and not be criticized for “sour grapes.” Hell, I retired from T & F/X-C competition 22 years ago and my cumulative athletic record speaks for itself. I am not trying to keep myself “relevant” any more than what my results… in the context of that time… deserve. But, I am always looking to learn about how athletes can improve their performances legally nowadays. I simply asked a legitimate question… that most all of you were also thinking… if not asking yourselves! I also have been reading about Therapeutic Use Exemptions of medical treatments/products for the past couple years….and understand that several of Alberto’s athletes have exercised this option… but it is all very private and “secret” as are most all medical records after the Federal HIPA law. I expressed the opinion that… after all we’ve read/heard about Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez over the past year….that it would be better for the integrity of our sport… to make this approved mechanism more “transparent” so that vicious and unfounded rumors might not be fueled on a weekly basis… or after any outstanding performances. I would have done that as an athlete back in my day… to stop any crazy rumors out there from gaining traction. My posting 1.5 days ago went viral after a few hours when it was picked up by letsrun.com as a link on their message board. Almost 53,000 people have now viewed this post…and there are over a dozen pages on letsrun.com of responses… some intelligent and some downright nasty/stupid/unproductive. All I wanted to do was reach out and start a discussion within my FB group about my intuitive questions… and now look at what has happened! I had no other ulterior motives…and certainly nothing personal against either Galen or Alberto or Nike. Evidently, our sport does need this discussion or nothing would have happened like this. I also fear that nothing will ever be done to keep our sport and its records or results “clean/ethical/full if integrity” if intelligent people can’t have a reasonable discussion about this resulting in affirmative action. Look what has happened to cycling and baseball in the last decade. Can’t I wish better for my sport that so many of us love so much? I also care very much about keeping our American athletes competitive with the best in the world. I was depressed about most of our int’l distance running results between 1989-2003… but have been ecstatic about the improvement in them since 2004. I just want this to happen in the “right way.” Is that too much to ask?

More: LRC Archives: Thyroid Medication In The Wall Street Journal And Jos Hermens’ Comments After The Olympics
*Telegraph: Alberto Salazar takes a swipe at rumour-mongers who put Mo Farah’s sudden run of success down to doping