Of late, American distance running is going through a bit of an identity crisis spawned from the fact that the athletes participating seemingly have no identity. When the best track athletes graduate from college and sign endorsement contracts, they join a team that in many cases spans the globe. While an endorsement deal is a momentous time for both brand and athlete, it is also a great feeling to be a part of something larger than one’s self. It is difficult for fans to grapple with these teams in the same way that they root for their favorite basketball team or university. At the same time, runners have always come together in training groups centered around coaches, but with endorsement deals taking precedence, they haven’t branded themselves as unique.
However, that started to change a little bit when Vin Lananna took over as the University of Oregon Track coach and dragged Frank Gagliano (later replaced by Mark Rowland) to Eugene to revive the Oregon Track Club. The Oregon Track Club has a tremendously successful history and its revival as an elite program was an integral complement to the community Lanana was trying to foster. This brought a wave of quality athletes to Eugene to sign with Nike, but instead of the generic Nike singlet, they wore an Oregon Track Club jersey, which was the first bit of differentiation among Nike athletes.
Meanwhile, Alberto Salazar created a group in 2001 in Portland. Seeing that Portland is also in Oregon, someone decided that his group was also the Oregon Track Club. Alberto Salazar had a heart attack in 2007 and recruited Jerry Schumacher as his replacement. Jerry brought a new crew while Alberto’s heart mended. There were three groups with three different coaches that hardly interacted with one another, wearing the same uniform.
In 2011, Oregon Project athletes started looking different. There was no formal announcement or marketing push, there was just a black uniform with a mysterious skull garnished with olive branches that Galen Rupp and company started wearing. Last year shoes and apparel with this logo became available through Nike catalogs to stores like ours. Enticed, we jumped on it instantly knowing that there is certainly a market for it.
The process of differentiating the three Oregon groups completed earlier this year when Jerry Schumacher’s team became the Bowerman Track Club and Shalane Flanagan debuted their new uniform and logo at the Boston Marathon. The name originated from the local Portland team, Bowerman Athletic Club. The local youth and open athletes that were in BAC will be rolled into BTC with their new, very fast company.
So now, three of the premier track clubs in the country, each boasting Olympic medalists, finally have distinguishable brands and additional ability to cultivate a following. Hopefully, this inspires other premier clubs in the country, like the Brooks Beasts and Asics Mammoth Track Club, to produce gear for their fans as well.