Don't touch bags, Salazar told athletes

Coach Alberto Salazar, hugging winner Mo Farah (right) and Galen Rupp after the 5,000m final at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu in South Korea, is alleged to have given Rupp testosterone when the athlete was just 16 years old.
Coach Alberto Salazar, hugging winner Mo Farah (right) and Galen Rupp after the 5,000m final at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu in South Korea, is alleged to have given Rupp testosterone when the athlete was just 16 years old.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ex-staff says famed coach feared they'd be tainted by the banned gel in his bags

LONDON - Mo Farah's coach Alberto Salazar often warned his athletes not to touch his bags because he feared contaminating them with his testosterone gel, a former member of his camp has told the Guardian.

Albert Kupczak, a massage therapist at the Nike Oregon Project from 2008 and 2011, also said he went to the United States Doping Agency (Usada) before the London 2012 Olympics because he feared anti-doping rules were being bent or broken by Salazar.

Kupczak, who said he massaged every athlete at the Oregon Project on a regular basis, including Farah, Galen Rupp and Kara Goucher, said Salazar frequently took Androgel, a banned anabolic steroid, to training camps.

World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) rules forbid support personnel to carry such drugs without good reason.

Kupczak said: "When we were at an airport together, Alberto would say, 'Don't let anyone touch my bag, I have my testosterone cream in there - I don't want anyone to get contaminated accidentally.'

"My thought was, 'If you are taking testosterone yourself, there are so many ways you can do it. You can do it in a tablet form. You can do it injection form. You can do it in an implant.'

"So why risk something that could possibly contaminate the athlete? That is nuts. But then, we would say, 'It's his way. That's Alberto'.

"It was one of those things that was so common that we didn't really take notice of it. We would just think, 'He's got his damned Androgel again'."

The Guardian received no response when it put Kupczak's claim to Salazar via e-mail.

However, it is known that he is preparing a detailed rebuttal to a BBC Panorama documentary that claimed he gave Rupp testosterone when the athlete was 16 and committed several other doping violations.

Rupp and Salazar deny the allegations and there is no suggestion Farah has committed any wrongdoing.

Kupczak, who worked at the Oregon Project for a few months in 2006, also told the Guardian of a culture "where inhalers were so prevalent, it didn't even faze me if people had one".

Yet, in Kupczak's view, that culture became increasingly secretive after he returned in 2008 and had become worse by 2011, by which time Farah had joined the camp.

"When I first met Alberto in 2006, he was great," he said. "He was fun. He was open. He would help anyone. He was a good man... But when I went back in 2008, he had changed.

"And he continued changing by the week. Things got really secretive."

Kupczak, the latest former employee of Nike's Oregon Project to come forward with claims against Salazar - the tally now stands at nearly 20 - also said he spoke to Usada three years ago. "I wanted to alert them before the Olympics because I thought they could watch more closely or do something about it. I probably contacted them in June 2012 and I spoke to them later that month," he said.

He believes that, in the next few days, Salazar will try to discredit Goucher, the 2007 10,000m World Championships bronze medallist, and Steve Magness, an assistant at the Nike Oregon Project, who made some of the more serious accusations against him in the Panorama documentary.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2015, with the headline 'Don't touch bags, Salazar told athletes'. Print Edition | Subscribe