Six women athletes say the University of Oregon’s data-driven approach to training caused them emotional distress and put them at risk for eating disorders.
Five of the six unnamed athletes who came forward to the Oregonian with their stories left the Ducks’ nationally recognized track and field program with eligibility remaining, the newspaper noted in a detailed report published on Monday.
The women say the emphasis on their precise weight and body fat percentages — calculated by high-tech DEXA scans — have triggered unhealthy results such as binge-eating, body dysmorphia and even nightmares about competing at Oregon’s iconic Hayward Field.
Under coach Robert Johnson, the Ducks have won 14 NCAA track & field and cross-country championships since he arrived in 2012. During his tenure, the program has embraced several high-tech blood, hydration and medical-imaging tests, which Johnson says allow the coaching staff to design individualized workout plans.
“When we get the numbers from our DEXA scans, we have an Excel spreadsheet that we can plug the numbers into, hit a button and it gives us a starting value for a training program.” Johnson told the Oregonian. “It allows us to be cutting edge and innovative in our approach to performance.”
However, not all athletes see things the same way.
One former athlete emailed Oregon deputy athletic director Lisa Peterson last October with her concerns.
“I have seen and experienced an absolutely disgusting amount of disordered eating on the women’s track team,” she wrote, “all because the coaches believe body fat percentage is a key performance indicator.”
Four of the women interviewed by the newspaper said that if coaches determined their body fat percentage was too high, they would be required to do additional cross training on a stationary bicycle.
Johnson did not respond to specific allegations, but said nutritionists meet regularly with athletes — and sports psychologists are also available — to help answer any questions they may have.
“If these things were happening, such as binge-eating, or they were going down this road of unhealthy behaviors, hopefully we would catch it, and then give them resources to get better,” Johnson said.