async="src="/ Taking the Long Way Home: Book Review: Win At All Costs: Inside Nike Running and Its Culture of Deception by Matt Hart

Monday, November 23, 2020

Book Review: Win At All Costs: Inside Nike Running and Its Culture of Deception by Matt Hart

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I have to admit that initially upon its release, I wasn't interested in reading Matt Hart's Win At All Costs; Inside Nike Running and Its Culture of Deception. I'd heard the stories about Alberto Salazar, the famed coach, who has been banned from running and racing because of doping allegations. I'd heard the rumors about Galen Rupp, Salazar's protegĂ©, thought to be heavily involved in doping. I read the stories about Kara Goucher's defection to Oiselle and never quite understood it. Last fall, young running phenom Mary Cain, came out against Salazar and his abusive comments about her weight. 

This is all very interesting, especially to those of us in running. Would a book that detailed the years of allegations against Salazar and Nike be a good read? Well, after reading Alex Hutchinson's recommendation--and for the life of me, I can't find it--I decided to pick it up. 

I'm so glad I did. It's a fascinating read and so well written, I couldn't put it down. In fact, some of the stories are so outrageous, you might forget this is a fact-based book! But for Nike and Salazar, it was all about winning--at any cost. 


You'll recognize a lot of famous names in Win At All Costs. The Gouchers feature prominently in the book as does Galen Rupp. Steve Magness takes a role as an assistant to Salazar and begins to question his methods, eventually becoming the whistleblower. Mo Farah and Dathan Ritzenheim were also athletes who trained under Salazar. As in other professional sports, there's a whole LOT of doping going on in running. 

Sigh.

Nothing Salazar did was based in science. Salazar was your typical Dr. Google researcher. He'd read about something he thought might make his athletes run faster and he'd find a way to get it. He knew enough to be dangerous; his grasp of science was questionable at best. There was a medical doctor he worked with who was Salazar's yes man and was complicit in his schemes, prescribing the medications Salazar wanted for his athletes. As a medical provider, I was truly fascinated and horrified by his manipulation of research studies and the questionable use of treatments to attempt to enhance the runners' performance. Salazar did things like putting runners on thyroid hormone, even when their bloodwork demonstrated normal thyroid function. All Salazar's runners used albuterol and steroid inhalers, medications given to people with asthma. Salazar was also a fan of testosterone, both injected and in cream form, a banned performance enhancer. One runner was cited as admitting that they didn't want Salazar touching them for fear he'd smear testosterone on their back. 

Ok, I found that a little amusing, in a macabre sort of way. It reminded me of some sort of mad scientist movie. A Dr. Frankenstein, if you will. Except that this really happened. How scary is that? Even more troubling, this pseudoscience has spread to amateur athletes. In my own practice, I've seen some high school athletes asking for inhalers, blood tests for ferritin, and inquiring about other dubious claims to improve their performance. 

Besides the doping, Salazar's and Nike's treatment of the female athletes was disgusting. Kara and Adam Goucher (neither of whom participated in Salazar's doping schemes) share Kara's trials of returning to running after giving birth. In addition, she wasn't paid when she was pregnant. As an employee of Nike, she was told that she had to abide by her contract. In order to be paid, Kara had to race and win. Can you imagine this? Like Mary Cain, Amy Yoder Begley, another Nike athlete, was subjected to verbal abuse on a regular basis from Salazar with regards to her weight. 

While some of what I read was hard to believe, Hart's research is thorough and well-documented. Were the runners as complicit as Salazar? He did have success with some of his athletes, so that may have helped convince some runners to go along with him. But did the athletes want to win so badly that they were able to accept the risks of using performance-enhancing drugs? Or were they so trusting in his methods that they were able to suspend any modicum of credulity? I mean, come on, testosterone? How do you justify cheating to win? And is the desire to succeed so great that you'd be willing to put up with such terrible treatment as the female athletes did? When do you say, enough is enough like Kara Goucher and Mary Cain finally did?

It's also mind-blowing to me that Nike was either unaware of what was happening or willing to turn a blind eye to Salazar's methods. I guess as long as they're selling shoes, anything goes. To his credit, Hart tries to present the information without bias. There are plenty of stories shared by other Nike runners in the book, adding more credibility to Hart's research. If a source responded to any of his allegations, he includes that. His book is well referenced. 

Win At All Costs is a crazy good read. It left me feeling bad for the athletes who really were the victims in Salazar's and Nike's 'Just Do It' world of winning. Imagine that you had this gift of running, you sign a contract with Nike, and get a coach who's going to make you a world champion. Instead, you find yourself being abused and exploited. It sounds akin to making a deal with the devil.

I'm so glad I don't run in Nikes.

Have you read Win At All Costs? Heard any of the stories about Salazar or the athletes? Care to weigh in?

Just do it? Winning At All Costs is a great read! My review: @oldrunningmom @deystreet @TheMattHart #running #runchat #runnning book club


I'm linking up with Kim and Zenaida for Tuesday Topics and with the Runners' Roundup: DebbieDeborahJenLaura, and Lisa.  


35 comments :

  1. An excellent book summary, thank you, Wendy. I need to get hold of this book.
    And yes, I'm so glad that I don't run in Nikes.
    I wonder, what did Nike do to contain this PR-disaster? Did they ever apologize or make amends?

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    1. If you can't find it, let me know and I will send it to you! I haven't heard anything about a response from Nike.

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  2. It's so sad that athletes are subjected to such abuse, because truly, that's what it is. They're usually quite young, and of course they're going to trust a father figure. I suppose it makes me glad that I certainly was never an elite athlete or even close.

    True story: a coach wanted to train my sister as a swimmer for the Olympics. I don't know if she was good enough or not, but my parents decided against it -- I guess they didn't think she was good enough. I guess I need to ask my mom about that!

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  3. Wow, this sounds like an explosive read! Very disturbing and it's sad how obsessed athletes get in order to stay on top...great review! And I'm glad I don't have much Nike either...

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  4. Thanks for the review. That sounds like such an interesting read. I feel so ignorant on that subject.

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  5. Yikes! I DO run in Nikes. I think I must read this book. I don't want to support a culture of winning at any cost, especially if it involves doping/cheating. Thanks for the wonderful recommendation.

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    1. Thank you! It's definitely worth the read and making a conscious decision about whether or not to support Nike.

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  6. Wow- I need to read this! Poor Kara...I went to running camp with her as a host a few years back, not too long after she came out and I ran as fast as I could to keep up with her super easy pace to hear the conversation as she was sharing a bit about what it was like to come forward against someone she essentially considered a father figure.

    My husband won't run in Nikes either! I haven't had to take that stance since I love my Brooks :)

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  7. This sounds like an interesting book. I've heard about some of this and would like to know more. It's pretty upsetting that all of this could go on and I am glad that some people were brave enough to speak out.

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  8. All I can say is WOW. I've heard some of the stories about Nike but your review tells me that I have a lot more to learn about the company. I'll add this one to my reading list - thanks!

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  9. I heard and read all about those crazy stories coming out of Nike. How could they let that go on? They had to know. Sounds like a really interesting book to add to my list

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    1. We're living in a time when winning and $$ trumps doing the right thing. I keep hoping for a reset!

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  10. I remember hearing about this scandal. It's crazy that this stuff goes on...

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  11. I already have requested a copy from the library.


    So many things to say about Nike. I don't like them but know people that love them. Nike had to know what was happening but chose to ignore it. I remember hearing about the scandal but found it "hard to believe" because I couldn't believe that someone like Alberto would do things like that. I am glad he is banned and is no longer allowed to coach. I remember seeing Galen at the Rio Olympics and he was running so fast and knew something was up. I mean, I know he run fast, but that was just ridiculously fast.

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    1. I look at Galen and think, how can that guy be doping? I mean he looks so sweet and innocent. I think he's a pushover and Alberto was able to fully exploit that. It's a truly fascinating read!

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  12. Those questions you ask in the third to last paragraph are critical...how much did the athletes know? Or was it a case of almost idolizing the coach such that it was easier to just go along with him and what he said or how he treated them? Brain-washed even? Or did they know and were just so desperate to win? But can you ever really call it a win (in your heat and head) when you know you cheated? I'd love to read this book.

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  13. thank you! adding to my to-read list :]

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  14. I'd heard a lot about Salazar and cheating and how the female athletes were so poorly treated. I don't run in Nikes either (but because I don't like their fit not because I've taken a moral high ground :-) ). I definitely want to read this book (though I wish it was available on Audible).

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    1. I stopped wearing Nikes years ago because of a style change in the shoe I was running in. I now feel really good about that choice!

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  15. We see so much of this across the broad spectrum of sports, and it's appalling. I am so glad peoplel are starting to get brave enough to stand up and speak out. Winning isn't everything and it's about time people realize it.

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    1. Do they, though? I look at what's happened in our country and how a blatant cheater received votes from almost half of the country. Money talks.

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  16. I really hope this doesn't implicate Mo Farah as I need to know he is clean! Oh dear! I don't wear Nike because of their continued sponsorship and support of Justin Gatlin, but for this as well. Fortunately I don't know of any Saucony scandals ...

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    1. Gatlin is mentioned in the book. It's crazy how they can still sponsor him, in light of all these revelations!

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  17. I really have to encourage you to look into the dynamics of emotional abuse in and outside of coaching. Usually in tight, ego broken down situations like that it's less about the athletes wanting to win and more about the dynamics of the situation.

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  18. Thank you for this book review! I definitely want to read it now. I do not run in Nikes, particularly after all the New York Times expose. It's just absolutely horrible how Salazar and Nike treated athletes!

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