This story first appeared in Issue #32 of Like the Wind

On is in the business of shaking up the world of running, and this extends to professional track and field. That is why the On Athletics Club (or OAC) was formed in the US in autumn 2020. And now a European arm of the OAC has been announced – finding, supporting and nurturing running’s next generation.

In the world of running, dreams don’t simply “come true”. Generally, athletes don’t set a personal best or make the team for a championship by luck. And perhaps that is the beauty of running – it is possible to realise dreams by working hard. Which is why On has created the On Athletics Club (the OAC): to support athletes striving to make their dreams come true and, along the way, inspire others to do the same.

The OAC launched its European arm at an event in Zurich at the beginning of May and invited specially selected athletes to join. However, as Olivier Bernhard, On’s founder and co-CEO, notes, even though On is a young brand creating exciting products, in order to formulate an attractive proposition for potential members, the OAC had to offer a coaching set-up and training facilities as well as apparel and footwear.

The first step towards creating the OAC team was a discussion between Olivier and co-CEO Marc Maurer about how On could support athletes chasing their dreams. The motivation for this came partly from Olivier’s experience as an elite triathlete. “One of the best opportunities I had was when I trained in the US,” Olivier explained at the OAC European launch. “When I was there I was able to train as part of a squad. I was able to go cycling with professional cycling teams, for example.”

Olivier realised that he was able to get more out of himself when he trained in a group than when he was alone. And that experience led Olivier and Marc to believe that they could support athletes by creating an environment where they would get the best out of themselves, together.

This realisation resulted in the creation of the first On Athletics Club, located in Boulder, Colorado, USA, and overseen by coach and three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein. That first experiment in creating a professional team of runners proved to be extremely successful, with five of the OAC’s 11 athletes travelling to Tokyo for the Olympic Games.

At the OAC European launch event in Zurich, On announced its next step in the mission to shake up the world of competitive running: forming a European team of young athletes. The idea behind the team aligns with the aims of the US OAC – to find and nurture the next generation of European runners and support them on their way to becoming future World Champions and Olympic medallists.

As with the US team, the European OAC will be led by an inspiring and expert coach. Thomas Dreissigacker brings huge amounts of experience to the team. Thomas was formerly the head coach for the German Athletics Federation and is excited about the opportunity that the OAC represents. “The professional setup enables us to get the best out of the athletes in practice and all other areas,” he says. “Additionally, I was enticed by the challenge to work with athletes from different countries and cultures.”

Which brings us to the athletes themselves. The European OAC team has been launched with five 1,500m specialists: 2020 UK national champion George Mills; German under-20 champion Fabiane Meyer; two-time Dutch junior champion Noah Baltus; the runner-up of the British Under-23 championships, Cari Hughes, and four-time Swiss champion Tom Elmer. The sixth member of the team is Spanish indoor 3,000m champion Marta Garcia.

Using the US OAC team as a template, the programme will offer several elements that support the athletes. The first benefit is of course the products that On creates – at the launch event in Zurich the consensus among athletes was almost unanimous: the Cloudmonster is a great shoe. Aligned to that is the fact that the members of the team have a significant part to play in the development of new products.

Then the athletes will gain from being part of a team, where there are crossovers in terms of disciplines, experience and gender, but also differences. What this means is that a middle-distance athlete might be able to run with a longer-distance athlete when each of them is doing a slightly different session that they might otherwise have to do alone.

Additionally, in the spirit of a brand born in the Swiss Alps, the young team members will have the chance to train at a high altitude base in St Moritz, where the team will enjoy the beautiful running trails, Alpine nature, and 1,800m elevation during the summer.

The team’s winter bases will be Berlin and Leipzig, central European locations with excellent training facilities and trails. Looking further into the future, Thomas is already planning winter high-altitude camps in South Africa, a popular training destination for the world’s top runners.

Perhaps the final question about the creation of the OAC is what it will mean for the global community of runners. For Olivier, Marc, Thomas and the athletes, the answer is really quite simple. The team exists to help athletes achieve their goals and in doing so, inspire runners around the world to chase their dreams and achieve more. Which is something we can all get behind.”


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