Before he was coaching the world’s best distance runners, Alberto Salazar was one of the best distance runners in the World. Inducted into the National Distance Runner’s Hall of Fame in 2000, one could never have predicted that, from this scrawny Havana-born youth, would he one day go on to reshape the status of American distance running.
First showing promise and an acute disdain for losing, in high school Salazar was already winning Massachusetts State Championships. Having outpaced all of his peers, in 1975 Salazar began training with the Greater Boston Track club. Being the youngest of the bunch didn’t phase him but rather had quite the opposite effect; a young Salazar readily embraced pushing himself next to the likes of Bill Rogers, Greg Meyer, Randy Thomas, and the other accoladed harriers.
Salazar went on to represent the University of Oregon during the legendry Bill Dellinger-coached era. As a Duck he helped claimed the 1977 NCAA Cross Country Championship Team title and the next year won the Individual Cross Country Championship title. A master at weathering punishing conditions and courses, Salazar won the 1979 USA Cross Country Championships, going on later to earn the Silver medal at the 1982 IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Such is the highest placing finish at the event for an American to date.
The records started in 1980 when the still collegiate Salazar blitzed a 2:09.41 in winning the New York City Marathon; the world’s fastest debut. He became untouchable across the event repeating as three-time champion (1980-1982). With his 2:08.13 in 1981 he set the World Record for the marathon. Salazar established himself as part of Boston Marathon lore for his epic 1982 win over Dick Beardsley.
Proven a man of formidable mental toughness, in addition to the World Record he also set six American Records: 13:22.6 for indoor 5000m in 1981 which destroyed the previous mark just shy of 20 seconds, outdoor 5000m record (13:11.93) in 1982, and outdoor 10,000m (27:25.61) in 1982.
In 1994 Salazar took his adept ability of pushing limits and endurance by winning the 53-mile Comrades Marathon in record-setting time across the blazing hot South African terrain.
In witnessing the decline of American distance running, employed at Nike, Salazar made it his mission to resuscitate a dying presence. Thus, the Oregon Project was born and with it the return of American distance running.