Someone Hired a Private Investigator to See if Alberto Salazar Was Still Coaching Galen Rupp. Here Is What They Found.
By Jonathan Gault & Robert Johnson
July 24, 2021
Acting on a tip, an individual -- described to LetsRun.com only as "a member of the professional running community who believes in clean sport" -- hired a private investigation firm in February 2021 to monitor Alberto Salazar and his most prominent former athlete, Galen Rupp, in order to determine whether either was in violation of the rule (neither Salazar nor Rupp responded to interview requests for this story). Rupp has been coached by Northern Arizona University coach Mike Smith since Salazar's ban was handed down and has been based in Flagstaff for the last few months as he builds up for the Olympic marathon on August 8.
Hiring the private investigation firm, the individual said, "was at a considerable cost but nothing compared to what clean athletes lose to cheating athletes."
The cost indeed had to be substantial as the private investigator went all-out, secretly following Salazar and particularly Rupp for days on end. Rupp was tailed for nearly two weeks. The investigation firm monitored Rupp and Salazar with hidden cameras, ran criminal background checks, and obtained both men's Social Security numbers. The firm also verified vehicle ownerships, searched property records, and even trailed Rupp as he went into a Home Depot and photographed him as he prepared to receive a massage.
The full report issued by the private investigator runs 31 pages long, includes more than 50 pictures, and at times borders on the creepy as it includes a picture of Salazar playing with his grandchild as well as numerous pictures of Rupp's wife and kids.
So what did the investigation firm find?
Join Our Supporters Club To Keep Reading
Sign up today to access exclusive Supporters Club content, bonus podcasts, discounts, and enhanced forums.
Choose the Annual Subscription for a bonus 12-week training program and free t-shirt.
Since he was handed a four-year ban from the sport of track & field in September 2019, Alberto Salazar, former coach of the now-shuttered Nike Oregon Project, has not been allowed to associate with any of his athletes in any sport-related capacity. It is a condition of his ban, spelled out in Article 2.10.1 of the WADA Code, known as Prohibited Association. A violation of that article carries a ban of an additional four years for Salazar (as well as a ban of up to two years for the athlete in question).
It is this Prohibited Association rule that particularly concerned one individual this past winter. Acting on a tip, this person — who described themselves to LetsRun.com only as “a member of the professional running community who believes in clean sport” — hired a private investigation firm in February 2021 to monitor Salazar and his most prominent former athlete, Galen Rupp, in order to determine whether either was in violation of the rule (Salazar did not respond to an interview request for this story). Rupp has been coached by Northern Arizona University coach Mike Smith since Salazar’s ban was handed down and has been based in Flagstaff for the last few months as he builds up for the Olympic marathon on August 8. Salazar appealed his ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the case was heard in March. No verdict has been announced.
Hiring the private investigation firm, the individual said, “was at a considerable cost but nothing compared to what clean athletes lose to cheating athletes.”
The cost indeed had to be substantial as the private investigator went all-out, secretly following Salazar and particularly Rupp for days on end. Rupp was tailed for nearly two weeks. The investigation firm monitored Rupp and Salazar with hidden cameras, ran criminal background checks, and obtained both men’s Social Security numbers. The firm also verified vehicle ownerships, searched property records, and even trailed Rupp as he went into a Home Depot and photographed him as he prepared to receive a massage.
The full report issued by the private investigator runs 31 pages long, includes more than 50 pictures, and at times borders on the creepy as it includes a picture of Salazar playing with his grandchild as well as numerous pictures of Rupp’s wife and kids.
So what did the investigation firm find?
Did it find examples of Salazar coaching Rupp? No.
The firm found that Rupp repeatedly uses a house owned by the Salazar family as a staging ground for runs on the Nike campus.
The investigation centered around Rupp’s activities at a house located less than half a mile from the Michael Johnson Track at the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. Purchased by Salazar and his wife, Molly, in November 2014, former NOP athletes Yomif Kejelcha and Sifan Hassan lived there for a time. The property is currently owned by a trust in Molly Salazar’s name and has served as a training facility for athletes. It notably features an Oregon Project-branded underwater treadmill in the backyard. According to the investigation, the property also received permits for an additional treadmill in the bedroom and an “altitude machine” on the front porch. During a two-week period from February 25 to March 9, Rupp was documented visiting the house six times, using the underwater treadmill on at least one occasion.
On three of his six visits, Rupp did not enter the house — which is also located near the school his two eldest children attend — and merely used the driveway as the start and finish point of a run around the Nike campus. When Rupp did access the house, he did so through a key obtained from a lockbox. On one occasion, an unidentified woman — described by the investigator as a “fit female runner, 25-30 years of age” — also emerged from the house after appearing to have used the underwater treadmill.
Salazar and Rupp were never observed together, and the investigation firm’s report detailed no evidence of communication between the two. Does the use of a training equipment at a house owned by the Salazar family meet the bar for Prohibited Association? That is something that the Athletics Integrity Unit has enlisted its legal department to determine.
According to the WADA Code, Prohibited Association is defined as:
Association by an Athlete or other Person subject to the authority of an Anti-Doping Organization in a professional or sport-related capacity with any Athlete Support Person who, if subject to the authority of an Anti-Doping Organization, is serving a period of Ineligibility.
In a footnote, the WADA Code also states:
Some examples of the types of association which are prohibited include: obtaining training, strategy, technique, nutrition or medical advice; obtaining therapy, treatment or prescriptions; providing any bodily products for analysis; or allowing the Athlete Support Person to serve as an agent or representative. Prohibited association need not involve any form of compensation.
Both the AIU and the US Anti-Doping Agency were sent copies of the private investigation firm’s report.
Brett Clothier, head of the AIU, told LetsRun.com “we’re aware of the allegations that have been sent to us. We’re investigating the matter and can’t make any further comment at that time.”
USADA declined to answer specific questions from LetsRun.com, with Director of Communications Adam Woullard offering the following statement:
“Investigations from tips and whistleblowers play a critical role in anti-doping efforts. We are aware of the information and have been actively investigating this matter in partnership with the Athletics Integrity Unit.”
Rupp, in a statement to LetsRun.com, denied any wrongdoing.
“I have become aware that an unknown person is attempting falsely to insinuate that Alberto Salazar has violated the terms of his ban by coaching or supporting me in some way contrary to the rules,” Rupp said. “To be clear, that has never happened. Since the imposition of his ban, I have never received any coaching or other support from Alberto Salazar in any professional or sport-related capacity. It is sad that someone would follow me around to take pictures but never have the courage to identify themselves or simply ask questions about these kinds of allegations. I’m looking forward to focusing on my task at hand, which is representing the United States at the upcoming Olympic Games.”
Smith said he had no reason to believe that Rupp was interacting with Salazar in a way that would violate any rules.
“My experience — and I said this talking about Galen a year ago — with him is this is someone that I think is so cautious about wanting to do everything right,” Smith said. “It’s such a ridiculous thought to me, it seems, just hearing a question like that. I work closely with Galen on his training and with that, I know a lot about what he’s up to. Absolutely in my experience in the time I’ve known Galen, I’ve known him to be someone that knows the rules and sometimes is, what feels like to me, excessively cautious. He knows he’s a highly visible athlete and wants to do things the right way.”
Smith said he first became aware of the private investigation firm’s report a few weeks ago.
“As a coach, I’m trying to keep this man focused on competing at the Olympic Games and he’s got people in his driveway taking pictures of him and his family. I just felt bad that that was something he was dealing with.
“It’s a couple weeks out from a massive focus of his career, the Olympics, and I think he and his family were creeped out by it. Someone is emailing around pictures, someone’s following him around. I think that, initially, I was just concerned that he and his family were okay.”
Quick Take: Based on what we’ve seen, we don’t think this should result in a ban for Rupp
The person that paid for the report believes he or she uncovered a clear rules violation. The introduction to the private investigation firm’s report contains the following passage:
This report details, with evidence, that Salazar, and his prize athlete Galen Rupp, have violated this “Prohibited Assocaition” [sic] requirement. This report details, with evidence, that Salazar has continued to provide professional sport-related assistance to Rupp. This report details that Rupp received training support and resources from Salazar, and continues to do so…..
Although not observed physically together during surveillance efforts, this investigation was successful in determining that Salazar is professionally associated with Rupp by virtue of his providing access to training facilities at a Salazar-owned property and training equipment on a consistent basis.
We totally disagree.
The report basically shows that Rupp regularly parks his car at his long-time friend’s house — a man who was for a long time like a second father to him — when he runs at the Nike campus. There is nothing about Salazar’s ban that prevents Rupp from using his house as a parking lot or starting spot for his runs.
And Rupp used the NOP underwater treadmill. Maybe that equipment is technically owned by Salazar. We don’t care. Rupp (and the unidentified female runner) shouldn’t be banned for using equipment based on who is the owner of that equipment.
Quick Take: This whole thing was a bit creepy
The investigation also prompts a question about privacy. Whistleblowers can be key assets to a doping investigation; indeed, it was the testimony of whistleblowers such as Steve Magness and Kara and Adam Goucher that sparked the USADA investigation that led to Salazar’s ban in the first place.
But what happens when the whistleblower hires a private investigation firm to track their subjects? Like any world-class runner Rupp must deal with some necessary infringements upon his personal life. As a member of the World Athletics Road Running Testing Pool, he is subject to daily whereabouts requirements; USADA tested Rupp 14 times in 2020 and has tested him 14 times so far in 2021. That comes with the territory.
Most professional runners do not, however, have to deal with a private citizen hiring a private investigator tailing them. Are Rupp (who has never been found guilty of an anti-doping rule violation) and Salazar entitled to any degree of privacy?
In this case, Rupp was tailed for almost two weeks, during which investigators witnessed him washing his car and followed him to a number of locations, including his children’s school (where Rupp picked up his kids), and even inside a massage therapist’s office as well as home improvement store. The only notable surveillance of Salazar in the report was an excursion to a local park; Salazar was observed walking his dog and playing with his grandson.
Pictures of Salazar playing with his grandson were included in the report. Bizarre.
That said, it’s incredibly hard to actually prove a Prohibited Association violation. It’s not like you can test positive for Prohibited Association. If there was any damning evidence, a private investigation is probably the best way to acquire it. But it is certainly odd to see a private citizen hire the private investigation firm; we can’t recall ever coming across a case like this one.
Now maybe if bags of EPO were found by the private investigator we wouldn’t think at all this was creepy, but they weren’t. Instead we see photos of what were presumed to be private moments in Rupp and Salazar’s everyday lives.