Book Review: “Win At All Costs” Tells the Definitive Story of the Rise and Fall of the Nike Oregon Project
By Jonathan Gault
October 29, 2020
There have been so many revelations about the Nike Oregon Project in recent years that it has been difficult to keep track of them all.
In 2015, there was the bombshell BBC/ProPublica investigation that explained how NOP head coach Alberto Salazar doled out prescription medication like candy and described an experiment in which Salazar rubbed testosterone on his sons in order to determine what amount would trigger a positive test.
In 2017, there was the leaked US Anti-Doping Agency interim report that suggested multiple NOP runners received L-carnitine injections above the legal limit of 50 mL from Dr. Jeffrey Brown and that Salazar misled his athletes about the injections in an attempt to assure them no rules were broken.
Ultimately, Salazar received a four-year ban from the sport from USADA last year (he’s appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport) and was placed on the US Center for Safe Sport’s temporary banned list. Within a month of Salazar’s USADA ban, Mark Parker shut down the Oregon Project, then announced he would be stepping down as Nike CEO (for what he said were unrelated reasons).
Now, one year after Salazar was suspended in the middle of last year’s World Championships in Doha, author Matt Hart has written a book, Win at All Costs: Inside Nike Running and Its Culture of Deception, detailing the rise and fall of Salazar’s Oregon Project.
Much of the book will be familiar to anyone who has followed the Salazar case over the years. Meticulously sourced (the book contains 51 pages of endnotes), Hart relies on the leaked USADA report (which he wrote about for the New York Times in 2017) and decades of reporting on Nike to tell the the definitive story of NOP. There are no new allegations as significant as those uncovered by ProPublica or USADA, but Hart succeeds in weaving what has already been uncovered into a coherent narrative that places NOP in its proper context within Salazar’s life and the larger Nike universe. The comparison between NOP and Athletics West, another Nike-sponsored group from the 1970s and 1980s that struggled with performance-enhancing drug use, is particularly compelling.
There is original reporting as well, drawn largely from interviews with former NOP athletes Kara and Adam Goucher and former NOP assistant coach Steve Magness, all of whom served as whistleblowers during USADA’s investigation of Salazar and NOP. Through that reporting, we receive a very different picture of the Oregon Project than the one presented by Nike and Salazar during the group’s glory years in the 2000s and 2010s. It is revealed that many of the methods and technologies Salazar employed were not based in facts or science, but instead driven by the whims of a mercurial coach handed a seven-figure budget with almost no oversight from Nike.
Magness reached that conclusion around the time of the 2011 Boston Marathon. Ahead of that race, Salazar told Magness it would be important for Kara Goucher to focus on downhill running in training because of a thread Salazar had read on LetsRun.com (Magness says he had to talk Salazar out of making Goucher run a set of 8 x 400m downhill reps on the course two days before the race). Later, Magness, ostensibly hired for his sports science expertise, received clarification on his role from Darren Treasure, the team’s sports psychologist and Salazar’s closest ally.
“Steve, you cannot do sports science in this group,” Treasure told him. “Everybody thinks Alberto is very scientific and cutting edge but Alberto will read something, get attached to it, and think this is it and the program will be on that thing tenfold.”
The book also discusses many details about the Gouchers’ Nike contracts usually kept secret from the public. We learn their dollar values (despite winning multiple NCAA titles at the University of Colorado, Kara started with a base salary of just $35,000 before working her way up into the six figures) and receive a comprehensive breakdown of the behind-closed-doors battle over Nike’s decision to suspend Kara’s contract while pregnant.
One subject to which Win at All Costs does not devote much time is Cain’s allegations of bullying and emotional abuse, in part because Cain only chose to make those allegations in November 2019 (Hart tried to interview Cain for the book but she did not respond). Salazar also declined to be interviewed for the book, which means much of the information presented comes through the lens of the Gouchers and Magness. That said, Hart’s reporting is fair; if Salazar offered a public defense for an incident mentioned in the book, Hart includes it.
Those who read Win At All Costs hoping to find a smoking gun will leave disappointed. But it succeeds in collating everything we do know about Salazar, NOP, and the allegations levied against them in a manner eminently more readable than a USADA report or arbitration decision. To say it’s “fun” to read Win At All Costs isn’t quite right, given the troubling behavior outlined within. But the book moves quickly and is hard to put down once you get sucked in.
More than anything, it’s necessary. Though Hart was, briefly, a professional ultrarunner, he’s not a running insider worried about future access or opportunities within the sport. That gives him the freedom to hold the most powerful coach and the most powerful company in the sport accountable. Regardless of whether Salazar’s CAS appeal succeeds, Win At All Costs will endure as a record of the dangerous culture that was allowed to thrive during his time at Nike.
Five out of five stars.
Purchase Win At All Costs here and support LetsRun.com in the process. Talk about the new book on our messageboard. MB: Matt Hart’s new Nike book is great – Salazar once tried to kiss Kara Goucher and said Solinsky ran 26:59 because of thyroid meds
More: LRC The 10 Craziest Things We Learned From “Win At All Costs,” the New Book About Alberto Salazar & the Nike Oregon Project From Salazar using the LetsRun messageboard to guide his 2011 Boston Marathon coaching to a drunken attempted kiss of Kara Goucher on the plane to the 2011 Worlds to Salazar crediting Chris Solinsky’s 26:59 to Solinsky being on thyroid med, Matt Hart’s fantastic new book has some fantastic revelations.