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As Nike grew, it dominated athletics with the fervor of a team trying to improve its score: not only win, but crush the competition to send the message that elite athletes who win do so while wearing Nike.
Several visible changes have led athletes to wonder if that is changing.
Athletes don’t get the same sponsorship deals.
Nike has long tried to devour any track and field athlete who had even an outside perspective to compete on the world stage. For example, while other running brands sponsor a handful of long distance runners or perhaps a group of them, Nike sponsors dozens of runners who run in three groups, medium and long distance, as well as sprinters, field athletes, and distance runners who are not part of any of the groups.
“Nike’s legacy is in athletics, and I think that was always a deepest wish, they had to win, whether with USATF, Pre Classic or Team USA,” said Michael Bergmann, a long-time Nike manager who now runs the Portland Track club.
However, at the beginning of 2021, some contestants were unusually critical of the company after their contracts expired.
Tianna Bartoletta, who won three Olympic gold medals in the long jump and sprint relay, is one of them. When she was working to get fit again in 2020 after surgery on a benign tumor on her uterus, she had little contact with Nike and one of her quarterly payments even failed to reach her bank account.
“During that time I got a new manager and he called Nike and Nike said, ‘Oh, that’s because she didn’t go to the 2020 Olympics,'” recalls Bartoletta. “At that point I let out the most insane laugh, the laugh was like an insane laugh.”