Emma Coburn won bronze in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, breaking her own American record by more than three seconds with a time of 9:07.63 on Monday. Then she removed her New Balance spikes, tied the laces together and draped them over her shoulder as she took a victory lap while holding the United States flag.
As FloTrack’s Taylor Dutch noted, the move was likely a calculated and clever one by Coburn to give some exposure to the shoe company that signed her to her first professional contract after she completed a decorated collegiate career at the University of Colorado.
Coburn wore a Nike uniform while becoming the first American to medal in the steeplechase since 1984, as is required under the terms of USA Track and Field’s exclusive sponsorship deal with Nike. According to USA Track and Field’s Statement of Conditions, athletes are “forbidden from altering, distorting, removing, or covering up the sponsor logo on any Team uniform items in an photographs, videos, or other images,” but uniform items “specifically exclude sunglasses, watches and shoes.”
While Coburn can compete in New Balance spikes, the Olympic Charter’s Rule 40 prohibits her and other athletes from mentioning New Balance — or any other non-Olympic sponsor — during media appearances or on social media during a blackout period that lasts until Aug. 24. The day before the blackout took effect in July, Coburn joined other athletes in expressing her thanks for her non-Olympic sponsor.
Coburn reportedly slipped and mentioned New Balance during her post-race interview before correcting herself. She complied with Rule 40 by making no mention of New Balance in a tweet on Monday afternoon, but that was long after she gave her sponsor one more lap’s worth of exposure after a memorable race.
In his deep dive into the economics of the Olympics, The Post’s Will Hobson reports that half of USA Track and Field’s overall revenue every year comes from its current deal with Nike, which is worth a reported $10 million annually. A new deal that begins next year will be worth a reported $20 million annually and some track athletes are concerned that it will make it even more difficult for them to land individual endorsement deals.
“Other brands aren’t going to have exposure on the biggest stages, so why would they invest?” Lauren Fleshman, a former Nike runner, said. “Even Nike athletes are going to be affected, because the marketplace is less competitive, so Nike won’t have to pay as much.”
After the move that Coburn pulled Monday, one wonders if USA Track and Field will revise its Statement of Conditions to further protect the interests of its biggest sponsor.