Durban – The four-year ban for multiple doping violations on one of the world’s top running coaches, Alberto Salazar, by the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada) this week has cast a dark shadow on marathon running – including Salazar’s “miracle win” at the 1994 Comrades Marathon after “hitting the wall” at about the 55km mark.
It was regarded as a remarkable feat in the world of running.
On Friday, Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) chairperson Cheryl Winn said the association would not review Salazar’s win 25 years ago because there were no grounds to do so.
The legendary coach’s suspension, which left the world of running reeling this week, included his current athletes at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, who received notices from the Athletics Integrity Unit prohibiting them from any association with Salazar, who was stripped of his accreditation.
Salazar was charged with using banned infusion techniques, tampering with the athlete doping control process and trafficking of testosterone with regard to the athletes he coached at the Nike Oregon Project.
During the doping probe, Salazar testified that he first used testosterone in 1991 and, after winning Comrades, he approached US Track and Field about going on testosterone replacement therapy, but the request was denied.
This week, he denied the findings and vowed to fight his suspension.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach confirmed he had contacted the World Anti-Doping Agency to investigate all athletes who trained with Salazar, which includes some of the world’s best runners, including the UK’s Mo Farrah.
Salazar gained hero status in the early ‘80s after winning the New York Marathon in three consecutive years (1980-1982), as well as winning the Boston Marathon in 1982 in a race dubbed “Duel In The Sun” when Salazar beat Dick Beardsely in a sprint finish, before collapsing. He ended the year ranked as the world’s No 1 in marathon running.
But he went on to suffer a myriad health problems, failing to make the US Olympic Marathon Team in 1988. He ran the New York Marathon again in 2006, serving as pace setter for disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, who was running the race for the first time.
In 1994, at 34, Salazar made a comeback, winning the Comrades Marathon, beating South Africa’s Nick Bester.
No other runner has won the 42km Boston Marathon as well as the 90km Comrades ultra-marathon.
In a 2010 interview with Modern Athlete Magazine, Salazar, who led Comrades from 21km but by the 55km mark was described as “in really bad shape”, said: “What happened was a miracle. With 20 miles (32km) to go I was ready to drop out. There were no squeezies at the water points and I was running out of energy. I had Gu sachets taped to my water bottles every four miles, but that just wasn’t enough. I remembered I was doing the race for God so I started praying he led me to the finish.”
Former Boston marathon winner turned journalist Amby Burfoot, having previously described Salazar “as washed up as a bottle on a Pacific beach”, said the 1994 Comrades win was “the most amazing day, topping all other achievements in the sport”.
This week, Burfoot said he did not recall finding anything suspicious about Salazar’s win at the time, adding “though perhaps I should have. In 1994, I was simply bowled over by his impressive win”.