It’s the end of March, the unofficial start to the outdoor track & field season in the United States. The World Cross Country Championships and indoor track & field are behind us. The first wave of major college invitationals are starting, most notably, the Texas Relays and Stanford Invitational.
This is a good time to note some major coaching and sponsorship changes that have taken place since the end of the 2012 track & field season. Track and field is a very cyclical sport that operates in four-year periods, known as “Olympiads.” The last Olympiad ended with the close of the 2012 London Olympics/2012 outdoor track & field season. The start of this next Olympiad, 2013 through the 2016 Rio Olympics is just getting started. As is often the case at the end of one Olympiad and the beginning of another Olympiad, there is much change.
Jenny Simpson has decided to leave her coach from 2010-2012, Juli Benson, who coached her to the 2011 World Championship gold in the 1500 meters, and return to Mark Wetmore, the man who coached her in college and to all of her current PR’s (1500-3:59.90, steeplechase-9:12.50 (American Record), 5000-15:01.70).
Lisa Uhl has also decided to leave her coach from 2010-2012, Jerry Schumacher, to return to her college coach, Corey Immels. Ulh, then Lisa Koll, set the collegiate record in the 10,000 meters (31:18.07) while a senior at Iowa State under Immels.
There was a big change with the Mammoth Track Club, with Coach Terrence Mahon moving to England tobe the United Kingdom’s distance coach. As a result, Morgan Uceny and Anna Pierce (and Mahon’s wife, Jen Rhines), have moved to the UK to continue to be coached under the watchful eyes of Mahon. Amy Hastings, on the other hand, decided to move to the east coast to be coached by Ray Treacy. Others to leave Mammoth include Scott Bauhs, Meb Keflezighi, and Angela Bizzari. The leadership of the Mammoth Track Club now lies with board president Deena Kastor and the head coach, Andrew Kastor, Deena’s husband. A new track opened in November and the High Sierra Striders merged with the Mammoth Track Club. The Mammoth Track Club was the pioneer of elite training groups. Founded in 2001 by coaches Joe Vigil and Bob Larsen, runners from Mammoth led the revitalization of American distance running, highlighted by Keflezighi and Kastor winning medals at the 2004 Athens Olympic marathon.
While the Mammoth Track Club resurrected American distance running, the current dominant team may be the group coached by Coach Schumacher in Portland. This group is currently nameless, as it has been reported that they are no longer part of the Oregon Track Club, and for the time being are an individual Nike club. At the USA Cross Country Championships, Schumacher coached athletes were dominant. In the women’s race Shalane Flanagan was first and Emily Infeld was fourth. In the men’s race, Chris Derrick was first, Matt Tegenkamp was third, and Eliot Heath was fourth. Derrick and Alan Webb are two of the most recent athletes to re-locate to Portland to be coached by Schumaker. In addition to the athletes already mentioned, Schumacher also coaches Evan Jager, Kara Goucher, Chris Solinsky, Lopez Lomong, Andrew Bumbalough, and German Fernandez.
Shoe companies and sponsorship have also been in the news. As often happens after an Olympiad, some contracts are renewed and some are not. Among the higher profile, “see you laters” were Kim Smith and Bobby Curtis being dropped by Reebok, and Lauren Fleshmen being dropped by Nike. Curtis has signed on with Brooks and joined the Hanson’s Brooks team and Smith is now sponsored by New Balance. Fleshman, who also announced that she is pregnant, signed with Oiselle, a company specializing in women’s running apparel located in Seattle, Washington.
Speaking of Washington, that is where Brooks is located. Brooks made news by committing to continue financial support to the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Program (ODP) for at least four more years. The Hansons-Broooks team is based in Michigan and coached by brothers, Kevin and Keith Hanson. Hanson’s biggest stars to date have been 2008 Olympian Brian Sell and 2012 Olympian and 2011 Boston Marathon runner-up Desi Davilla. Brooks also announced the formation of a new middle distance team to be located in Seattle. Already signed on as part of this team are two women with Seattle collegiate ties: Katie (Follett) Mackey (University of Washington) and Jessica (Pixler) Tebo (Seattle Pacific University). The two men on this new team are pace setter extraordinaire Matt Scherer and the 800 runner who was quite impressive in his striped shirt at the Olympic Trials last year, Mark “Stripes” Wieczorek.
There have probably been many more changes within the track and field world since we last saw most of the top US athletes in London at the 2012 Olympics, but these are some of the most notable changes that happened on the ride known as the coaching and sponsorship carousel.
Lost in the excitement of the final days of the Olympic Trials was a minor feud involving Brooks.
Brooks Running Company, of #runhappy fame, are not one of the title sponsors of United States of America Track & Field (USATF) or the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). Nike, of swoosh fame, is an official sponsor of the USATF and a domestic sponsor for the USOC. The Olympic Trials are hosted by USATF which means, Nike gets to have their logo up all over the place and other shoe companies do not. When you fork out big sponsorship money, you get what’s called exclusivity, which means not only do you get to advertise at the meet, your direct competitors do not.
The Nike sponsorship was evident all over the meet with signs and banners reminding me to “Just Do It” and to “Find My Greatness.” A gigantic poster of Bill Bowerman looked down on me as I ate my Chobani yogurt. On the sides of buses Nike told me that this was Galen Rupp’s Track, Galen Rupp’s Town, and Galen Rupp’s Time and that Allyson Felix was London bound in 22 seconds. You couldn’t escape the Nike marketing scheme.
While seeing the swoosh everywhere can get old after awhile, I don’t really have a problem with the concept of Nike being the exclusive shoe company sponsor for USATF. I think that Nike does a lot of great things for the sport of track & field including financial support.
I’ll digress a little to mention that the marketing game in track & field is a high stakes game with large sums of money involved. No wonder non-Nike sponsors were upset when meet officials tried to get athletes to put on the red (Nike) USA jacket for the awards ceremony. After awhile the athletes caught on. Nike athletes sported the red jacket for the award ceremonies and the non-Nike athletes politely declined. When it comes time to compete at the Olympics, the USA uniform is Nike and whether you are a Nike athlete or not, you will have to wear the Nike USA gear for official
Team USA functions (warm-ups, press conferences, competition, medal ceremonies, etc.). Non-Nike aAthletes have gotten very creative in showing off their sponsors even when they are in Nike USA gear. Jenny Simpson did one of the best I’ve ever seen, taking off her New Balance spikes and draping them around her neck after winning the World Championship 1500 meters in 2011. Almost every picture of her after the race has her with the USA flag around her shoulders, a Nike USA uniform on her body, and her bright yellow New Balance spikes hanging around her neck. Jenny is brilliant or someone at New Balance gives some good lessons on what to do after the race.
The other shoe companies were present in Eugene but they had to be creative to gain visibility. Adidas rented out a frat house but I didn’t hear too much about anything they did. New Balance and Saucony sponsored some of the nights at the Wild Duck Café which resulted in the wait staff wearing Saucony shirts or my beer arriving in a New Balance logoed pint glass. Asics rented out a lot on the corner of Agate and East 19th Street for the first weekend only and had some games for kids. The company that fought the most to get some of the market was Brooks.
Brooks rented out a frat house on 18th Street that overlooked the track. They had daily morning runs that attracted 200-300 runners, they had a gait analysis booth, and passed out all kinds of Brooks swag – beannies, water bottles, shirts, a giant hand with a number one finger. Malinda, John, and I did the best we could to make sure Brooks didn’t have to cart any of this stuff back to Bothell, Washington.
Brooks’ most daring move, however was hiring a small airplane to fly above the stadium pulling a banner with their familiar run happy motto on it. I noticed the airplane above the stadium on the final Saturday of the meet. Apparently so did someone from either the USATF, USOC, or Nike. FloTrack reported that it was an oversight on the part of meet management to not reserve the airspace above the track and Brooks took advantage of this. Brooks was warned on Sunday morning with a letter and when the airplane appeared above Hayward Field again Sunday during the meet, three high level Brooks employees had their credentials revoked and were escorted from the stadium. It was the USATF and USOC that did this, not Nike. USATF sited in a press release that the advertising rules had previously been outlined and Brooks was in violation of them.
I did not know any of this as I watched the run happy banner fly overhead both Saturday and Sunday. But I do re-call thinking that that was a pretty clever guerilla marketing move on Brooks’ part. I figured Nike would not be happy but after reading Geoff Hollister’s book, Out of Nowhere, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself that Brooks was doing what Nike used to do. Back in the mid-1970’s when adidas had exclusive sponsorship and ruled the US track & field scene, Nike would look for any creative way to gain visibility.
Geoff Hollister passed away earlier this year. Nike lost one of their original employees with his passing. Hollister loved Nike so he couldn’t be too happy with another company trying to steal some of the marketing share from Nike. But I can’t help but feel like he’d also smile to himself a little at seeing Brooks’ guerilla marketing tactics at the Olympic Trials. It was something right out of the Nike book.
In my mind there are eight primary running shoe brands. Below I give a brief overview of each company.
SAUCONY – 1898
Slogan: Loyal to the Sport.
Location: Lexington, MA
Famous Shoe: Saucony Jazz
High-Profile Runners: Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, Ryan Shay, Wallace Spearman
Saucony History: The company name Saucony comes from a Native American word, which means “mouth of a creek or river.” The company began making children’s shoes in 1898. The first factory was in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, on the banks of the Saucony Creek. The Saucony logo represents a river running over three boulders. In 1910, Russian immigrant Abraham Hyde started a shoe company called Hyde Athletic Industries. Over the years, Hyde became known for high-quality and technologically-innovative footwear including brands such as SpotBilt and PF Flyers. Hyde Athletic Industries bought Saucony in the late 1960s, and moved it to Cambridge, MA. By the late 90’s, when Saucony became Hyde’s dominant brand, the name of the company was officially changed from Hyde Athletic Industries to Saucony.
NEW BALANCE – 1906
Slogan: Let’s Make Excellent Happen.
Location: Boston, MA
Famous Shoe: New Balance 990
High Profile Runners: Jenny (Barringer) Simpson, Maggie Vessey
New Balance History: New Balance was founded in Boston in 1906 as the New Balance Arch Company by an English immigrant name William Riley. The company manufactured arch supports and orthopedic shoes. In 1934 Riley went into a partnership with leading salesman Arthur Hall and began marketing New Balance shoes and arch supports to policemen, waiters, laborers, and other people who spent much of their day on their feet. Riley had committed the company to providing relief from foot pain and other orthopedic problems. In 1938 they made their first running shoe, which they sold with a money-back guarantee. New Balance was the first shoe company to offer running shoes in multiple widths, consistent with their mission to provide every person, no matter their foot size or shape, with the best fitting shoe possible.
New Balance had always proudly manufactured their shoes in the U.S., but in the 1980’s the company shifted most of its production to Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and other international destinations. This sparked a flurry of controversy in the mid 1990’s after a brief filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) disputed “Made in the USA” labeling standards. By the late 1990’s, New Balance’s production had shifted to China and scandal followed in 2000. Allegations turned out to be true that the New Balance factories in China operated in “sweatshop conditions.” A year later, in 2001, New Balance doubled its U.S. work force. Today New Balance still manufactures some of its products in one of its five U.S. factories by using modern management, high-tech production methods, and extensive employee training to offset the cheaper manufacturing costs of Asia. However, a large number of its products are still produced in China.
MIZUNO – 1906
Slogan: Never Settle.
Location: Osaka, Japan
Famous Shoe: Mizuno Wave Rider
High Profile Runners: Carl Lewis, Antonio Vega
Mizuno History: Mizuno began as Mizuno Brothers Ltd. in Osaka in 1906. Rihachi Mizuno and his younger brother Rizo were the founders. They sold western sundries including baseballs. Early on Mizuno made baseball equipment, skis, and golf clubs. Today Mizuno makes apparel, equipment, and footwear for its primary sports: baseball, softball, volleyball, golf, and running.
BROOKS – 1914
Slogan: Run Happy.
Location: Bothell, WA
Famous Shoe: Brooks Beast
High Profile Runners: Desiree Davila, Brian Sell, Hanson’s Brooks Team
Brooks History: Founded in 1914, Brooks began business as a maker of ice skates and cleated sports shoes, but the company did not distinguish itself until more than 60 years later, when it thrived as a manufacturer of running shoes. Brooks ranked as one of the top three brands in the United States during the late 1970s. Success during the late 1970s sent the company reeling during the 1980s, as it failed to sustain its market leadership and floundered. A refocused market strategy during the 1990s, targeted toward serious runners in the 35 to 54-year-old age bracket reinvigorated Brooks, prompting diversification into apparel in 1997.
ADIDAS – 1924
Slogan: Impossible is Nothing.
Location: Herzogenaurach, Germany
Famous Shoe: Adidas Supernova
High Profile Runners: Haile Gebrselassie, David Rudisha, Blanka Vlasic, Jeremy Wariner
Adidas History: Adidas was founded in 1924 in Germany by two bothers Adi and Rudolf Dassler. The company was first named Dassler shoes. However, in 1948 Rudolf Dassler left to start his own company which would become known as Puma. Once Rudolf left, Adi came up with the famous three stripes logo and changed the company’s name to Adidas. When Adi made his first shoes in 1920, he was inspired by a single idea. His vision was to provide every athlete with the best footwear for his respective discipline. He was the first entrepreneur to use sports promotion as a way of drawing public attention to his innovations. He began to use well-known athletes as advertisement for his products. Many famous athletes such as Jesse Owens and Muhammad Ali counted themselves among the friends of the adidas family. Aggressive publicity was one of the cornerstones of Adi’s corporate policy. He came up with a product innovation for every major sporting event, always documenting the superiority of adidas footwear.
PUMA – 1948
Slogan: Faster is Funner.
Location: Herzogenaurach, Germany
Famous Shoe: Usain Bolt’s spikes
High Profile Runners: Usain Bolt
Puma History: In 1948, after splitting from his brother Adi, Rudolf Dassler started his own company called Puma Schuhfabrik Rudolf Dassler. Puma gained popularity in the 1950’s thanks mostly to world-class soccer players and runners wearing Pumas.
For years there was a feud between Adidas and Puma because of the split between brothers Adi and Rudolf Dassler. In 2008 Barbara Smit published “Sneaker Wars: The Enemy Brothers Who Founded Adidas and Puma and the Family Feud That Forever Changed the Business of Sport.” In September 2009 the two companies, in the spirit of the Peace One Day program, staged a soccer game to officially end the feud. It was the first joint activity between the two companies since the brothers went their separate ways more than sixty years earlier in 1948. They didn’t play Puma against Adidas, but instead created two teams with a mix of employees from the two companies. Adidas boss Herbert Hainer and Puma chief Jochen Zeitz were both on the team that won 7-5.
ASICS – 1949
Slogan: A sound mind in a sound body.
Location: Kobe, Japan
Famous Shoe: Asics Kayano
High Profile Runners: Ryan Hall, Lolo Jones
Asics History: Kihachiro Onitsuka formed Onitsuka Co., Ltd., in Kobe, Japan in 1949. He was motivated by the use of sports as a means to rehabilitate juveniles after World War II. After World War II children could not get any sports shoes when they wanted to play sports. The company name was changed to ASICS in 1977, which stands for the first letters of the words in the Latin proverb, “Anima Sana in Corpore Sano,” meaning “a sound mind in a sound body.”
Slogan: Just Do It.
Location: Beaverton, OR
Famous Shoe: Nike Pegasus
High Profile Runners: Allyson Felix, Bernard Lagat, David Oliver, Shannon Rowbury, Sammy Wanjiru
Nike History: In 1964, Phil Knight and legendary University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman created Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS) to provide athletes with better shoes. BRS initially sold shoes manufactured by Tiger, which was a subsidiary of Onitsuka Company (the company that eventually became Asics). Their first year sales totaled around $8,000 worth of Tiger shoes. It wasn’t until 1971 that BRS introduced the concept of the greek winged goddess of victory—Nike—followed by the launch in 1972 of the company we know today as Nike. The Nike “Swoosh” was designed by Caroline Davidson, who was at that time, a student at Portland State University with an emphasis in advertising. She met Phil Knight while he was teaching an accounting class. She designed the swoosh logo and got paid $35. In 1974, the Waffle Trainer became the company’s first self-designed shoe. By the mid-1980s, Nike had slipped from its position as the industry leader, in part because the company had badly miscalculated on the aerobics boom, giving upstart competitors an almost completely open field to develop the business. Fortunately for Nike, the debut of a new signature shoe for an NBA rookie by the name of Michael Jordan in 1985 bolstered Nike’s fortunes. The “Just Do It” slogan was born in 1988. San Francisco Dolphin South End Runners Club icon Walt Stack, then eighty years old, appeared in the first “Just Do It” ad. In the 1990’s Nike faced criticism for contracting with factories in countries such as China, Vietnam, Indoneisa, and Mexico, where there were accusations of minimum wage and overtime law violations. Nike has also faced criticism for use of child labor in factories in Cambodia and Pakistan. Despite the controversies, thanks to international expansion, aggressive and savvy marketing, and innovative product development, Nike is considered the world’s leading supplier of athletic shoes and apparel.