I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike | NYT Opinion

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I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike | NYT Opinion 5
Mary Cain’s male coaches were convinced she had to get “thinner, and thinner, and thinner.” Then her body started breaking down.

At 17, Mary Cain was already a record-breaking phenom: the fastest girl in a generation, and the youngest American runner to turn professional. In 2013, she was signed by the best track team in the world, Nike’s Oregon Project, run by its star coach Alberto Salazar.

Then everything collapsed. Her fall was just as spectacular as her rise, and she shares that story for the first time in the Video Op-Ed above.

Instead of becoming a symbol of girls’ unlimited potential in sports, Cain became yet another standout young athlete who got beaten down by a win-at-all-costs culture. Girls like Cain become damaged goods and fade away. We rarely hear what happened to them. We move on.

The problem is so widespread it affected the only other female athlete featured in the last Nike video ad Cain appeared in, the figure skater Gracie Gold. When the ad came out in 2014, like Cain, Gold was a prodigy considered talented enough to win a gold medal at the next Olympics. And, like Cain, Gold got caught in a system where she was compelled to become thinner and thinner. She developed disordered eating to the point of imagining her own death.

“America loves a good child prodigy story, and business is ready and waiting to exploit that story, especially when it comes to girls,” said Lauren Fleshman, who ran for Nike until 2012. “When you have these kinds of good girls, girls who are good at following directions to the point of excelling, you’ll find a system that’s happy to take them. And it’s rife with abuse.”

We don’t typically hear from the casualties of these systems — the girls who tried to make their way in this system until their bodies broke down and they left the sport. It’s easy to focus on bright new stars, while forgetting about those who disappeared. We fetishize these athletes, but we don’t protect them. If they fail to pull off what we expect them to, we abandon them.

But Mary Cain’s story isn’t over. By speaking out, she’s making sure of that.

Whether it's reporting on conflicts abroad and political divisions at home, or covering the latest style trends and scientific developments, New York Times video journalists provide a revealing and unforgettable view of the world. It's all the news that's fit to watch.

💬 Comments on the video

I thought this was gonna be about nike shoes making her run slower

Author — MAD


They literally broke her down and ruined her career . Its so sad to see how in that span of time what it did to her physically and mentally.

Author — Patty May


The fact that the new york times magazine published a piece in wich they praise Salazar and then make this video is a great example of intellectual honesty and democracy. They acknowledged their mistake and then gave Cain the opportunity to share the true version of the story.

Author — Francesco Femia


You mean a company that has been using child labor since the 80's is doing stuff to hurt people? No Way!!

Author — Detonate Klubstompers


"He wanted to give me birth control pills and diuretics to lose weight" I'm sorry, honey :(

Author — Ready 2 be Betty


She actually has a point about having more female trainers. Men and women's bodies are different and the body breaks down the thinner you get

Author — failsafe


I can’t believe she was treated like this. If anyone is feeling or being treated like this, *TELL someone!*

Author — Inflake


They didn’t even have to be female physiologists and doctors there just needed to be actual doctors

Author — The elephant In the room


Their new slogan should be: "Nike. Ruining Lives. Just Do It."

Author — Lightyear Hosting


We all know female athletes who lose their periods. Note to self: Starving women lose their periods when their systems are over taxed.

Author — Sylvie Walker


Not having a nutritionist that specializes in women’s health seems ludicrous for an organization of that size.

Author — why why


So the “best” coach in the “best” program in America took the fastest female runner and made her the slowest...WTF!

Author — Big Potato


They need to fire Alberto Salazar and all of his cronies.

Author — Mike Devyne


So glad she had parents she felt comfortable reaching out to and who immediately acted with compassion and support. Not everyone has that lifeline.

Author — dandymcgee


you can’t always trust people, even those with the greatest reputation

Author — CJ Stevens7


“I’m not buying Nike anymore”

- Literally everyone who will forget about this after a week.

Author — Gustavo Gutierrez


Alberto sounds like someone who should be in jail, rather than training young people.

Author — Heath Watts


Alright. See you guys in 7 years when this will AGAIN get into everyone’s recommended.

Author — Dhruv Chauhan


I’m a dude who loves Nike wear, but now I’m done shopping there.

Author — Vance Valsky


ffs how many children does Nike have to destroy before people stop wearing their shoes

Author — rocketpoweredunicorn