A Colorado cross country program that built a renowned national reputation behind an ethos of character, dedication and success was blitzed by troubling allegations on the eve of the NCAA championships two weeks ago.
In the time since, many of the former Buffaloes greats mentored by coach Mark Wetmore have come to his defense. As is Wetmore himself.
Wetmore spoke to BuffZone regarding the allegations of mistreatment and mental abuse put forward by former Colorado runner Kate Intile, as detailed most prominently in a Runner’s World article published two weeks ago. An independent investigation remains ongoing, and Wetmore admitted to uncertainty surrounding his CU career of three decades.
Intile’s allegations specifically named Wetmore, 19-year associate head coach (and CU cross country alum) Heather Burroughs, and Laura Anderson, CU’s associate athletic director of performance nutrition.
Intile’s allegations first surfaced publicly in a May article in the Washington Post, which focused on a broader examination of mental health needs across NCAA athletics. In that piece, Intile described monthly body composition tests at CU conducted before large windows that looked upon an active weight room. The Runner’s World article — published on Nov. 18, one day ahead of the NCAA championships — expounded on Intile’s claims and focused on Wetmore’s program, with Intile alleging CU’s “approach was unprofessional, demeaning, and harsh,” and that it “led to so many eating disorders.”
According to Wetmore, as well as Tabor Scholl, a former CU All-American and one-time teammate of Intile who is leading a drive to defend Wetmore, Burroughs and Anderson, those body composition tests never were mandatory.
“Of the allegations that I’ve seen, from one of the letters that went around and what was in the Washington Post, my opinion is that they are 100% untrue,” Wetmore said. “Not a matter of a difference of opinion. Not a matter of misremembering. The ones that I’ve seen, in my opinion, are 100% untrue.
“We try to run a program that’s respectful of everybody. Of people who are stars and people who are not stars. I was not a star. But that one woman, for reasons of her own, has expressed displeasure with her time here.”
The dynamic of body composition tests with elite women’s distance runners, particularly at the collegiate level, has become a growing concern as many schools, including CU, have expanded their mental health resources for all student-athletes. It was in October of 2021 when Oregon cross country coach Robert Johnson was accused by six former athletes of cultivating a culture of body shaming. Johnson’s contract was not renewed following the 2021-22 school year.
Intile spent two years in CU’s program, 2017 and 2018, at a time when the women’s cross country program was dominant. The 2018 women’s squad won the team national championship behind an individual title from Dani Jones. Scholl finished 15th and the Buffs were so loaded they had a future Olympian in the steeplechase, Val Constein, as their sixth finisher.
Intile transferred to Oregon State and, according to Scholl, “no one heard from her for two years.” Yet on the very day the Oregon news broke in the fall of 2021, Scholl said she received a message from Intile inquiring about her experience at CU.
“This is not making a (body shaming) conversation open to talk about,” Scholl said. “There have been articles that have done that. And people have come forward and have had positive conversations. It’s been great. This wasn’t creating a positive conversation of change. It was just creating a conversation of a vendetta of some sort.”
Scholl has devoted time the past few weeks to gathering testimonials from current and former CU runners in defense of Wetmore, Burroughs and Anderson. She turned over 15 in all, 13 from women’s runners, to CU athletic director Rick George as well as the leader of the investigative team.
Wetmore has spent 28 years at CU, the past 26 as the head cross country and track and field coach. His Buff squads have won eight cross country NCAA team titles (five men, three women) and 21 individual national titles (cross country and track). Former CU runners often have turned to Wetmore and Burroughs to continue coaching them as professionals, none more prominently than former Buffs All-Americans Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn, who in 2016 became the first American women to win Olympic medals in their respective events (both won bronze; Simpson in the 1,500 and Coburn in the steeplechase).
Honors and accolades, of course, do not make a coach or a program immune to missteps. Yet Simpson, still a volunteer coach with the Buffs, believes all anyone needs to know regarding the character of Wetmore and Burroughs is how most former Buffs runners thrive in their pro careers, whether they are Olympians or weekend warriors.
“I’m not naive. I know on the same team, different athletes have different experiences and some people leave hurt,” Simpson said. “But, describing the conditions on the team as ‘toxic’ is just grossly inaccurate. Even more so, the picture (Intile) is painting of coaches Mark and Heather, and the team nutritionist, Laura. It’s really unfortunate.
“So many runners leave Mark and Heather’s program at CU and go on to chase even bigger and more challenging running dreams. And then achieve them. The Olympians are often the first to come to mind but there are dozens more who graduated with enough strength and love for the sport to take on the marathon, trail running, ultra running, join local running clubs, and have continued to enjoy running as they become professionals in something else. That’s evidence of a broad positive impact that Mark and Heather have had on the students who come through their cross country program.”
For now, all Wetmore, Burroughs and Anderson — who was staunchly defended by Wetmore and Simpson in their respective interviews with BuffZone — can do is wait until the independent investigation is complete. Envisioning the CU running programs without Wetmore sounds implausible, yet asked if he is concerned at all about his job status, Wetmore replied: “I don’t know. I’ll have to see what they’ve heard from other people. Maybe they’ll unearth something about me that I don’t even know.”
Wetmore added, “It was uplifting, I have to admit,” to hear how his former runners are coming to his defense. He readily admits there are demands within his program, but they are demands in tune with operating an elite athletics program. And they are demands that, in his experience, the vast majority of athletes within the CU program are eager to embrace.
“We’re told that we’re here to compete for and win championships,” Wetmore said. “That’s the phrase. ‘Compete for and win championships.’ Which I’m in favor of. I like it. That’s what I’m trying to do in my trade. Trying to be elite. Successful. But maybe that’s not what the University of Colorado really wants. Maybe they need to rethink that and have a different goal. It isn’t oppressive. People have fun. People have pleasant memories. Hundreds of people have gone through the program and had a wonderful time. A few hundred people were at a reunion last fall. It isn’t oppressive. But maybe the small few who find it so will end up dictating a new role for athletics at CU.”