Ken Goe Retires and Reminisces on His Career + Phil Knight, Galen Rupp, Vin Lananna and Alberto Salazar

On Alberto: “I’ve seen very little persuasive evidence that he was a systematic cheater”

November 18, 2020

Ken Goe, a sports writer for the Oregonian, retired earlier this month after 43 years on the job. Ken covered mainstream sports like college football during his career, but he was most known to the crowd as one of the few regular track and field writers in America at a major newspaper. Ken covered everything related to running in Oregon and that included Track Town USA, the Oregon Ducks, Nike, and everything that goes with Nike including Alberto Salazar, Galen Rupp and Phil Knight.

Ken was the special guest on our Track Talk podcast this week. You can subscribe here to the podcast or listen in the player below or on your favorite podcast app. But we’ve typed up some of the highlights below the player from Ken’s talk with writer Jonathan Gault and LRC co-founder Weldon Johnson.

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Some answers edited for clarity. Click on a timestamp to listen to audio.

On what Ken loves most about track and field- the people.

[78:39] “What most appealed to me about the sport were the people… I found track and field athletes and coaches [to be] fascinating people. They  tend to be very articulate, very knowledgeable about what they do and why they do it. And very easy to interview. Maybe football players are jaded, they get interviewed so much that it doesn’t ever come across as fresh and interesting. And I really rarely had that problem with the track athlete. I love talking to track athletes. People like Nick Simmonds…”

On interviewing Alberto Salazar and not finding the doping allegations against him “heinous”

[96:05] “I arranged to do an interview, a one on one with Alberto at the Nike campus. And he started disarming because he dealt with all those [doping] questions head on, in a way that seemed open. And so I wrote a story, a profile of Alberto, and he liked the story. He thought I was fair to him. And that probably gave me some credit with him, then. He has at times thanked me for having an open mind about him. I don’t think a lot of people in the sport do have an open mind about him. I think they have made up their mind from the start that this guy’s up to no good. And there, there is some circumstantial evidence that might lead you to believe that. But I think most of the evidence… which I’m aware [of]  is circumstantial. I know he he’s been banned. And I know WADA nailed him on several things. I never saw any of those things as particularly heinous. They indicated to me a guy that was trying to stay within the rules while getting as close to the line as he could, which is that’s sort of Alberto. And in a couple cases, it looks like he he maybe got over the line a little bit, but I never saw it as Ben Johnson or Marion Jones type cheating.”

On criticism his coverage was soft on Alberto: “I’ve seen very little persuasive evidence that he was a systematic cheater.”

[99:04] “I reject the criticism that I’m soft on Nike, I don’t think you’d have a hard time finding anything that I’ve written that would indicate that I was [soft]. The question of Alberto I think gets down to how you evaluate the evidence. And, to me, I’ve seen very little persuasive evidence that he was a systematic cheater. Now, maybe you can say, well, it depends on how you define cheating. And that might be a fair point. And maybe people are saying, when they criticize me for, for being soft, [that] I’m not being critical enough of him for being in a gray area, or violating the spirit of the rules. I’ve never understood the spirit of the rule thing anyway. To me, that’s a subjective opinion. I mean who’s who’s defining what the spirit of the rule is? There is a rule, and it’s the rule. It’s black and white, and you either have broken that rule, or you haven’t. And the spirit of the rule thing gets gets really iffy. And maybe that’s partly from [me] covering other sports. Like, if you cover baseball, and there’s a runner on second base, he’s trying to pick off the catcher signs and relay him to the batter. And that’s considered part of the game.”

Later on Alberto, “I’ve seen a lot of smoke. I’ve seen very little fire.”

On Alberto Salazar and Mary Cain: “The whole thing was disturbing”

[102:04]  “I remember Mary Cain when she first burst onto the scene and how delightful a young athlete she was and how full of promise and life and joy she seemed to be. And how her joy in the sport was infectious. I used to like to watch her post race interviews because she was just such a happy person and she just was so enthusiastic about what she was doing. And whatever happened here with the Oregon Project clearly took that away from her. Now, I’m not sure how much of that can be pinned strictly on Alberto. I think he probably wishes he had now in retrospect, that he had a woman assistant coach who could have maybe helped him deal with with things that are specific to women runners, especially young women runners … I think maybe if the Cains were to look at this in retrospect too, they would question their decision to decide to send Mary out here at that age. I’m not defending anything that that happened between Alberto and Mary Cain… The whole thing was disturbing and I feel really bad that that happened to her and that she lost that joy and enthusiasm for the sport.”

On Galen Rupp and Alberto Salazar’s evolving relationship:

“I don’t know if they talk [now]. But I think they were moving a little apart, anyway, even before this [the ban] happened. As Galen matured and got older, he had his own ideas about what he wanted to do. Early in his career, Alberto, basically, controlled everything. And I don’t think Galen saw reason not to have it that way because he was successful. But I think as Galen matured, and went from a high school athlete to a man, I think he started to have his own ideas about what he wanted to do. And he didn’t want to be controlled that way anymore.”

On the world famous forums:

[110:50] “But your comments sections can be very brutal to the Oregon Project to Alberto and to Galen. And I always draw a line there. I don’t see LetsRun(.com) as the worst of the comment section. To me, LetsRun is Jonathan Gault’s analysis of a race or, or what The Week That Was, what’s one of my favorite things to read every week. Because it’s a great synopsis and of the week in a sport…. But I stay off the message boards, because the things you see there, whether they’re about me, or they’re about somebody else, are just a lot of times poisonous. And to me that, like there’s too much going on in my life. And there’s too many other stresses to get into that.”

Alberto getting busted is like Al Capone getting busted for taxes:

“And my view of what USADA did was they, like many others in the running community are convinced he’s been cheating systematically for years and getting away with it. So they, and I’ve written this, it was sort of like Al Capone, right? They knew Al Capone was breaking laws, but what did they nail him for was tax evasion. Right? It wasn’t killing other people or bootlegging, or running a numbers racket on the Chicago Southside or whatever it was, it was for for tax evasion. And here USADA got Alberto for something. But it certainly wasn’t what we were led to believe that they were investigating him for or any of the sensational allegations that were made against him.”

On whether there was a split between Phil Knight and Vin Lananna

“I think those cost of those World [Indoor] Championships cost a lot of money. And in the end, I think they were left with a big shortfall much bigger than they had expected. And there’s only one person that could make up for that. And that was Phil Knight. And I think he did. I mean, they paid their bills and all that. But I think that’s when there maybe was a beginning of a little bit of a less enthusiastic support in Beaverton for Vin Lananna. And so I think, going forward, Phil Knight, as evidenced by the fact he’s built this palace of a track stadium in Eugene, still wants to invest in track. But I also think he wants somebody who’s maybe going to be more realistic about what, what something’s going to cost and what the return will be.”

Listen to the full podcast here.

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