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Nike to investigate former distance runner Mary Cain's allegations of abuse

Nike is investigating allegations by former middle-distance runner Mary Cain that she suffered physical and mental abuse as a member of the Nike Oregon Project.

Cain joined the now-shuttered Oregon Project, which was run by coach Alberto Salazar, in 2013 after becoming the youngest American to qualify for the track and field world championships, where she competed in the 1,500-meter final as a 17-year-old.

Cain, now 23, told The New York Times that she was pressured to become "thinner and thinner and thinner" when she was with the Oregon Project. She said she was publicly shamed in front of her teammates if she did not hit weight targets.

"I joined Nike because I wanted to be the best female athlete ever," Cain said in a video published Thursday. "Instead, I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike."

Cain said she stopped menstruating and broke five bones while being pressured to drop weight. She said she had suicidal thoughts and also began cutting herself. She ultimately left the Oregon Project in 2016.

"We take the allegations extremely seriously and will launch an immediate investigation to hear from former Oregon Project athletes," Nike said in a statement Thursday. "At Nike we seek to always put the athlete at the center of everything we do, and these allegations are completely inconsistent with our values."

The New York Times said Salazar denied Cain's allegations in an email.

Since Cain's story was published, other athletes have tweeted their stories that either confirmed Cain's account or shared their own accounts of being pressured to lose weight.

Salazar received a four-year ban in September for, among other violations, possessing and trafficking testosterone. Nike shut down the Oregon Project last month.

In its statement, Nike said Cain had sought to rejoin the Oregon Project as recently as April and did not raise concerns about Salazar at that time.

Cain acknowledged looking to work with Salazar again, noting she did so because "when we let people emotionally break us, we crave their approval more than anything."

"I was the victim of an abusive system, an abusive man," Cain said. "I was constantly tormented by the conflict of wanting to be free from him and wanting to go back to the way things used to be, when I was his favorite."

She said Salazar's doping ban helped her find the clarity to speak out about the abusive conditions.

Cain said not enough has been done to hold Nike accountable for "a systemic crisis" in which "young girls' bodies are being ruined by an emotionally and physically abusive system."

"That's what needs to change," she said.

Nike also has come under pressure this year for its treatment of pregnant athletes. A number of female athletes, including six-time Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix, said Nike reduced or would not guarantee contracts if an athlete became pregnant.

In August, Nike announced that it would no longer apply performance-related reductions to pregnant athletes for a period of 18 months.