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speaking out

Nike to launch investigation after runner Mary Cain describes 'emotionally and physically abusive system'

Mary Cain joined Nike and their running group, the Oregon Project, because she wanted to be the best female athlete ever. Instead, she says, she was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Nike and coach Alberto Salazar.

On Friday, Nike launched an "immediate investigation" to hear from former athletes of the Oregon Project, which was shut down last month after a doping scandal that resulted in Salazar being banned from the sport for four years.

Cain, who at 17 was the youngest American track and field athlete to make a World Championships team, was signed to Nike in 2013 in what she calls a dream come true. In a video published Thursday by The New York Times, she explained how detrimental it was.

An all-male staff told her she had to get thinner, and encouraged her to take birth control pills and diuretics to do so, said Cain, now 23. Salazar told her she needed to be 114 lbs., and would publicly shame her if she wasn't losing weight, she said. Salazar denied Cain's claims in an email to the Times.

Amid declining health and after suffering 5 broken bones, she was running terribly, she said.

"I started to have suicidal thoughts," Cain said in the video. When Salazar was reportedly dismissive of her self-harming and mental health, she reached a breaking point.

"I wasn't even trying to make the Olympics anymore, I was just trying to survive," Cain said in the video. "I made the painful choice, and I quit the team."

In a statement, Nike said Cain had "not raised these concerns" before. On Friday, Cain responded, saying she continued to work with Salazar, because "when we let people emotionally break us, we crave their approval more than anything."

Nike needs to change, Cain says, remarking, "I plan to be running for many years to come ... I want to end this chapter and I want to start a new one."