The New Jersey-New York Track Club (NJNYTC), an elite training group founded in 2010 by legendary coach Frank Gagliano, is in flux after title sponsor HOKA declined to renew its support of the group beyond the end of 2020.
HOKA has sponsored the NJNYTC group as a whole, and many of its athletes individually, since 2016.
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It’s not unusual for training groups to lose or gain sponsors after Olympic years, but the pandemic threw a wrench in the typical timing of running deals. Gagliano and two assistant coaches, Tom Nohilly and John Trautmann, had hoped that HOKA would extend its support for at least six months,
through the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in June 2021. That meet, which selects the U.S. Olympic team in track and field, was postponed for a year after the Olympics were also postponed.
Through its public relations firm, HOKA declined requests for comment from Runner’s World. HOKA is also a Runner’s World advertiser.
“HOKA’s decision to end the sponsorship for the HOKA New Jersey-New York Track Club is very disappointing to me,” Gagliano said in an interview with Runner’s World. “I really feel for these men and women who are hurting with the Olympic Trials six months away.”
A track coach for 59 years, Gagliano, 83, said this loss of financial backing comes at a difficult time. Because of the pandemic, racing opportunities are scarce, and many other shoe companies’ rosters are full.
“In all these years, whether it was a post-collegiate club or in the college ranks, we always got to the Olympic Trials,” he said. “What’s happened now has never happened in my career. It’s very tough to look in the athletes’ eyes or hear their voices on the phone, saying, ‘Can I get to the Olympic Trials?’”
Trautmann concurred, pointing out that the window for track athletes to have a shot at making the Olympic team is very short—usually one or two four-year cycles at most.
NJNYTC is based in Westchester County, a suburban community of New York City, where the cost of living is high. But in its early days, the group was one of the only options for middle-distance track runners who wanted to stay on the East Coast.
In 2019, Ce’Aira Brown made it to the finals of the 800 meters at the world championships in Doha—a highlight for the group. But she left the team in June to train in Philadelphia with Ajee’ Wilson under coach Derek Thompson. Brown is thought to be under contract with HOKA through 2021.
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NJNYTC’s website currently lists 14 men and nine women on its roster, although coaches said many have left the New York area. A few graduates of NC State have returned to Raleigh, another has gone back to the midwest, and a couple are in graduate school.
Nohilly and Trautmann, in calls with Runner’s World, said they are establishing a new group called the Empire Elite Track Club, which, like NJNYTC, will be registered as a nonprofit organization. They expect to have 11 to 13 athletes as they get started as a team in the coming weeks.
Gagliano said he remains at the helm of NJNYTC, coaching Ryan Manahan and Jeremy Hernandez, among others. He wishes Nohilly and Trautmann well.
Miler Johnny Gregorek—who trained with members of NJNYTC but has a separate contract with a rival shoe brand, ASICS—said he will continue to run for ASICS through 2021, and he plans to seek input from all three coaches going forward.
“I’ve always had a great and prosperous relationship with Gags, Tommy, and Trautmann and continue to,” he wrote in a text message. “I will be working with all of them to make the 2021 Olympic team.”
Kyle Merber, a 1500-meter and mile specialist who has talked about moving to longer distances, did not specify his plans to Runner’s World but confirmed his HOKA contract is ending.
“I joined the NJNY Track Club out of college without the support of a shoe company, but the team wanted to give me an opportunity to keep training,” he wrote in a text message. “I was extremely fortunate thanks to Gags, Tommy, and John to have the chance to run post-collegiately and ultimately compete well enough to earn a contract with HOKA, which is now set to expire at the end of this year.”
Merber added that he was “lucky to have found a great partner these past 7 years” in HOKA. “I’ve had every advantage throughout my career, with none greater than world-class teammates to run with every day,” he wrote.
HOKA has its roots in trail and ultrarunning, and it continues to sponsor a large roster of athletes. In September, HOKA announced a new, multiyear sponsorship agreement with Northern Arizona Elite, home to marathoners Aliphine Tuliamuk, Stephanie Bruce, Kellyn Taylor, and Scott Fauble, among others.
The four-year agreement with NAZ Elite begins January 1, 2021 and increases the personal level of support for each of the club’s individual athletes as well as the club as a whole, according to a press release. The release read, in part: “The funding will provide for an increase in the size of the club, an increase in the coaching resources, and, crucially, will also enable the club to offer health insurance to each of its athletes—a rarity for distance running sponsorships.”
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