Nike’s Big Bet

Nike’s Big Bet is a documentary released on April 29 in 2021 directed and written by Paul Kemp that looks at the coaching career of Alberto Salazar when he was with the now closed down defunct Nike Oregon Project. On October 1 in 2019 Alberto Salazar was suspended for doping violations even though none of his athletes have been found guilty of drug doping. The documentary tackles the question of whether Salazar is the villain or a hero without actually answering the question.

Official Trailer for Nike’s Big Bet:

A review by Athletics Illustrated commented:

The documentary curiously titled Nike’s Big Bet by writer, director, and filmmaker Paul Kemp is a must-see piece of journalism. The 82-minute expository does not accuse banned coach Alberto Salazar of cheating or fat-shaming and abusing athletes, however, Kemp’s narrative asks the viewer to arrive at their own conclusion. Kemp put all the facts forward craftily delivered by a who’s who of North American running…..Kemp leaves it up to the viewer to decide whether Salazar was a cheat and an abuser. He kept a delicate balance of not painting Salazar as evil but very driven.

Outside Magazine noted:

The debate has never really been about the facts of the case, in and of themselves, so much as about the interpretation of the facts. Nike’s Big Bet rightly points out the inherent absurdity of a coach being banned on doping-related charges without a single one of his athletes failing a doping test or being officially charged with violating the rules.

In the documentary, there is a discussion of the controversy around the Nike Vaporfly running shoe in 2016 and the advantage this apparently gives athletes. The link between the release of the shoe and the topic of the documentary is that they suggest that the release and use of the shoe was a manifestation of Salazar’s belief that anything that is not expressly forbidden is permitted and this this was apparent at the corporate level in Nike and the win-at-all-costs mentality. With Outside Magazine noting that:

It becomes clear that, for a number of those interviewed in Nike’s Big Bet, the disruptive effect of the Vaporfly was more egregious than any of Salazar’s transgressions.

Womens Running did point out that:

The cast of commentators includes Amby Burfoot, Malcolm Gladwell, Ken Goe, Jonathan Gault, Weldon Johnson, Chris Chavez, Timothy Hutchings, Alex Hutchinson and more—most of whom are informed experts, but as a group of all men, lack a diversity of perspectives, which leads the film astray.

and also that:

Salazar abused his power, he manipulated his athletes, he fostered a toxic culture where, despite having all the Nike money and resources at his disposal, he chose to ignore real science-backed training strategies along with proper, credentialed mental health support. Instead he resorted to threatening athletes’ livelihoods if they didn’t hit certain numbers on the scale, which were never based on anything but his perception of the size of their body parts… The film ignores the broader conversation about how athletes suffer when a coach relies on antiquated philosophies that neglect nutrition and fueling science and individual physical development. It condones Salazar’s and Nike’s win-at-all-costs philosophy, dismissing the long-term physical and psychological damage it has inflicted upon dozens of athletes whose careers could have flourished under healthier circumstances.

Shakeout PodCast interview with the director of Nike’s Big Bet, Paul Kemp:

Related Pages:
Drugs in sport | Nike

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