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I Was the Fastest Girl in America, Until I Joined Nike (nytimes.com)
79 points by laurex 7 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments





So, the coaches of an athletics program underfed an athlete to the point where she "lost her period for three years and broke five bones". Sounds terrible. The article claims:

> A big part of this problem is that women and girls are being forced to meet athletic standards that are based on how men and boys develop. If you try to make a girl fit a boy’s development timeline, her body is at risk of breaking down. That is what happened to Cain.

I wish they would expand on this a little more - are the coaches broadly incompetent or do they have a specific misconception about how to train women? What do they belive that is causing them to underfeed their athletes?


Thinner is faster, up to a point, but as noted in the article if you take it too far it leads to injury. I suspect a lot of the grey area stuff NOP was infamous for, i.e. abuse of prescription drugs and therapeutic use exemptions, allowed Salazar to be more successful with this approach with other athletes. For most runners, the short term speed gains of losing weight ultimately do not outweigh the lost training from injury, but if you can get a shady doctor to help with the negative side effects then the calculus changes.

Also, I wouldn't say Salazar is incompetent, but he was supposed to be this distance running genius and it seems more and more like he was no better than the dozens of crappy DI college coaches out there who get a lot of talented athletes, grind them up, and see who survives, leaving a trail of injury and burnout in their wake. Salazar just had access to better talent and drugs.


Interesting, thanks!

"Female Athlete Triad"[1] is the explanation of what's happening to these young women. I have a hard time believing Nike coaches don't know about it, though, because I'm a slightly overweight male software developer, and I know about it. Maybe they don't believe it's real? I, too, have nothing but questions.

1: https://draxe.com/health/female-athlete-triad/


It could also be a problem of misaligned incentives. When athletes get injured, it is the athletes who get fired, not the coaches.

The incentives might not event be misaligned. It could be a lottery where some peoples bodies will survive the training and other people's bodies will fail but it might still make sense to roll the dice because the payoff is so large. It could also not make sense and the coaches are just exploiting it. But I think it is a lot of effort to get the data to work out whether it makes sense or not. It is kind of shitty if the coaches know this and don't inform the athlete. But maybe there is a psychological aspect to it and if they inform the athlete then they basically sabotage the chance they have of winning the lottery.

This seems much more likely to me, the first point, not necessarily the explanation at the end.

So much of climbing the ladder in athletic competition is about surviving each rung of physical and mental hardship. Talent gets you on the ladder but the work too keep climbing gets more and more grueling with each step. At the upper echelon of athletics are people who are basically clinically obsessed and had the good luck to make it through critical development years relatively healthy.

I think that's the truth of high level athletics and most of the time people who are involved in them are so convinced they're the lottery winner no amount of warning can stop them and when, in most cases, they come up short, the previous warnings hit them like a truck.

Now, if this woman in the article is correct, a new approach to female athletics must lead to an increase in performance and she'll revolutionize women's sports. Otherwise, she's just another person warning young athletes that they probably won't make it and the torture they're going through probably isn't worth it.


They don't have a misconception, I think, as much as they are willing to risk the athletes' health. Gymnastics programs have been known to keep girls on short rations to delay puberty and the weight it brings.

> are the coaches broadly incompetent

I think it might be that they're competent with respect to achieving specific athletic goals but incompetent with respect to recognizing (ab)normal development in young women. I'm not an expert by any means, but I get the rather strong impression that elite athletic coaches for young women overwhelmingly either are male or are former elite female athletes themselves. Add that to selection bias for their clients and they might very well have little to no experience working with a normally developing female body.


Is there a high profile, competitive environment where children perform that has not resulted in a lot of damaged children?

Examples from music (Jackson Five), TV and Movie child actors, this example, and the USA gymnastics all come to mind.


Ballet has destroyed the emotional well-being (and, in some cases, adolescent bodies) of every woman I know who participated. They all have extreme issues with body image, self-esteem, and the perception of achievement, and all of them ascribe these problems to their ballet teachers.

(To be more specific, I'm talking about four women. One of them was semi-pro before changing her mind and going to college. The others just did it for fun as kids, not unlike other kids playing recreational basketball.)


And their toes! My mother was telling me about few physio patient she was helping. Their toes were absolute mess.

But no wonder toes are not meant to support whole body.


Wrestling. I've found that the people that fall short at each level leave the sport with a discipline and sense of accomplishment unlike any other sport.

While the unhealthy weight cuts aren't completely in the past, they have been addressed and greatly mitigated.


I think wrestling is great, but rates of injury are pretty high. Cauliflower ear is kind of a badge of pride in those circles, but it definitely qualifies as damage.

Rotator cuff injuries are quite common, and I suspect that cases of disordered eating are higher than you might think.


Wrestling is notorious for eating disorders, performance enhancing drug use, dehydration (via cutting water weight - sweatsuits specifically), etc.

But also has its own historical accusations of drug use, abuse, murder with its own documentary https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxcatcher

If we choose time periods closely enough, most sports are probably scandal free 5-15 years at a time.


Your right, I misread. Historically wrestling has been awful. It's the rare example of something coming out better from lessons learned.

Robotics competitions fit your criteria decently well. They are safe, have educational value, competitive and are decently high profile. More specifically, FIRST and Vex are both fairly wide spread.

I don't think that is high profile in the same way though. You will never be well known for doing well at FIRST since the highest level of competition only has ~6k entrants worldwide.

Even at the level of FIRST, I think there are some unhealthy things that come out of the competitiveness, with teams where professional engineers do almost all the work, or a small set of students get a lot more attention than others. But it has a tonne of great benefits despite some small issues.


No dietician? That's honestly shocking for a "program" coming out of Nike.

Wow. With programs like that, sweatshops, and general bad acting, Nike is some rotten company.

It's piling on a bit, but having worked in tech at Nike, this kind of thing is unsurprising. Huge, bloated company with a _really_ bad clique problem.

But their marketing is great! That's really all that matters anymore.

Isn't that known for years?


She thought she was joining Nike to be an athlete, but she was really joining to sell shoes. Can’t have a thick muscular woman as a poster girl, that won’t sell shoes!

Edit: It’s sarcasm. Clearly Nike doesn’t actually care about athletic ability if the only goal of their coaching was to get their female athletes to lose weight.


>Can’t have a thick muscular woman as a poster girl, that won’t sell shoes!

Serena Williams would beg to differ.

Instead of shrinking from her body shape or her age or her motherhood, she has embraced them and she and her brand are stronger for it. Of course, not everyone has the ability and confidence of Serena Williams.


Yeah she jumped out to me as the exception. I don’t really think she represents “fitness” in the eyes of the consumer though, she’s more of a “power and determination” person. Her sponsors are a bank, Gatorade, and a sporting goods company. None of those companies sell their product based on beauty/fit-ness.

So is the story that the coaching was more ambitious than she could take or was it just misguided in general?

> In a program that should be tailored to every individual athlete, "more ambitious than [any given athlete] can take" sounds like a fundamental failure.

It may have been a calculated "go big or go home" gamble.

wrong-headed, it reads like.



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