Goucher, 35, hopes to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic team in the marathon.
After several months of being unsponsored, Kara Goucher, one of America’s top distance runners and also one of the most recognizable, has signed a deal to be part of the Oiselle team. Oiselle is a small but fast-growing women’s running apparel brand based in Seattle that has built a reputation about being true to the sport of running and sponsoring athletes with integrity and personality.
The move was somewhat unexpected, at least in that Oiselle is not a huge brand like some of the large shoe and apparel companies that traditionally sponsor runners. Goucher, 35, had been with Nike for 12 years, the largest running shoe/apparel brand in the world. In signing with Oiselle, Goucher joins Lauren Fleshman (another ex-Nike runner) as top-tier American runners who chose to sign with an apparel-only brand and not a major footwear/apparel brand as a primary sponsor.
Terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but Goucher said she turned down three offers from footwear/apparel brands, one of which was a seven-figure deal. Goucher is still actively seeking a shoe sponsorship, as well as endorsements from an eyewear and timing company.
Goucher won a bronze medal in the 10,000 meters at the 2007 track and field world championships, and is a two-time U.S. Olympian and three-time NCAA champion. She says she was not dropped from Nike, but chose to pursue other options. However, Nike had a right of first refusal and had to officially release Goucher before she could sign with another brand. Goucher got word that she was released by Nike on Wednesday from Nike global sports marketing director John Capriotti.
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Goucher recently moved back to Boulder with her husband, Adam, a 2000 U.S. Olympian, and son, Colton, to reunite with former college coach Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs, a former college teammate, who now assists Wetmore at the University of Colorado. She’s been training with former CU runners Emma Coburn and Jenny Simpson in recent weeks.
She’s planning to run a spring and summer track season, but her biggest goal for the year will be running a fast marathon. After running well at the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Half Marathon (5th, 1:11:49) and the Boston Marathon (6th, 2:28:11), Goucher was injured for most of the rest of the year in 2013.
“I’m so excited. I just feel like the luckiest person alive,” Goucher said. “I’m excited about my partnership with Oiselle and the season ahead.”
What drew you to Oiselle as a brand?
“Honestly, I have to credit Lauren Fleshman for bringing awareness to the brand. I didn’t know about Oiselle until Lauren told me about it. For me, I went out to Seattle at the end of January and the beginning of February and met with the team there and (founder) Sally Bergesen and it was completely different than anything I had ever seen—the way they operate, the way they support each other. I was instantly so inspired and wanted to be a part of it so badly. I knew right away.”
How did the deal come together?
“After I went out there, I came back and was really excited about it, but Sally actually turned me down. She said they didn’t have the money and that they were a couple of years away from doing something like that. I was really devastated. I had a couple of other offers on the table, so I started going back to that. But I kept missing it and ended up calling her back and asking her to reconsider, asking her if we could do something unconventional or something non-traditional where we both felt like we were benefitting from the relationship. Basically she threw me the best offer she could, which was great. Then another shoe company came in with big money, so I had a tough decision to make. But I knew in my heart what I wanted to do all along.”
Are you optimistic that a shoe brand will want to sign you?
“I’m hoping someone will be able to think outside the box and see that there will be value in me in their shoes. The couple of companies I approached that subject with have kind of laughed about it. I’m hoping someone will see there is value in it and that it actually really empowers the athlete first, that we don’t have to have a one-size-fits-all model here in the U.S. So I’m still hoping for a footwear contract, but obviously when I made my decision I was willing to forgo the traditional footwear contract for being with Oiselle. The three contracts that I was offered all included apparel and footwear. I understand that.
“I’m pretty sure most companies will send me shoes as this process continues. But I would actually like a partnership and a commitment from a company and give them a commitment back. We’ll see what happens. Only time will tell. I’ve only wore Nike shoes my whole life. It’s been interesting and fun to try other shoes.” [Note: Goucher was wearing Saucony shoes in the publicity photos Oiselle sent out, but she says there is no deal pending with Saucony at the moment.]
How tough was the process of finding a new sponsor?
“I was fortunate that I had 12 great years with Nike. They didn’t drop me. I chose to move on. It was an interesting process. It was hard to hear some companies that said, ‘You’re old and you’re branded and you’re untouchable, basically.’ That was hard to hear. I was like, ‘Wow, thanks for deflating my balloon.’ But in the end, it made me stronger. It made me think, ‘who do I want to be partners with when I’m done. Who is still going to care about me? Who is still going to see me as an asset on their team?’”
Why did you turn down bigger offers?
“I told (Nike) that I passed on three traditional shoe contracts, one of which was a seven-figure contract. But I just wanted to do something different in my life. Nike had to review the contract, but they released me yesterday on good terms, and I’m able to move on and start fresh, and they’re able to move on. I haven’t thought beyond running before, and it made me think beyond that. It was an interesting journey, and at times, it hurt my feelings, and at times it was stressful, but in the end it will just make me a better person and more appreciative of what I have, and more excited to be with the company I chose to be with.”
Is there something bigger you hope this leads to?
“I hope this will bring about a change. In the past, a lot of us were held to this one model and you were kind of lucky to get what you got and you weren’t allowed to think about a different model. I think Lauren has been a big pioneer and taking a risk and doing things differently. I really look up to her and the path she has taken. I think Nick Symmonds is also starting to pave his own way. Hopefully, five years from now, it won’t be so weird for someone to have dual sponsorships or to sign with an apparel-only company. Maybe companies can work together and the athlete can truly be more financially stable and perform even better so they’re not having to work another job or something like that. I just hope this winds up changing the current model so the athletes have more choices and, in the end, the U.S. benefits from having people who can run better.”
What’s your outlook for the next several years?
“The whole reason I left Portland was because I want to make one more Olympic team and I felt like I needed a drastic change to do that. I am getting older and things are getting harder. The big goal is to make the marathon team in 2016. This year is really about getting my speed back and having a good, solid marathon season. After that, I don’t know. Mark and Heather and I set the tone for this year and we’ll re-evaluate after the fall. We’ll see if we want to do the same things or if we need to change things or if I need to run two marathons next year. We’ll determine that after the fall.”
Do you still feel like you have a lot left, given that you’re 35 now?
“I had a bad year last year where I was injured pretty much the whole year. I feel great right now. I feel more youthful than I have in years because I have cut back my mileage and really focused on doing things I haven’t done in a long time, like doing hurdle drills and doing all-out sprinting and things I haven’t done in four years. I feel good, but I’m a realist. I know I’m never going to run 4:05 (in the 1500m) again. I know I’m never going to run 8:34 (in the 3,000m), but I believe I can still PR in the marathon and maybe even PR in the 10K. The marathon isn’t always won by the fastest woman. The Olympic champion in 2008 was 38, which is what I’ll be in Rio. I realize I don’t have 10 more years to give, but I think I have a lot more to give in the next few years.”