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The reality for many athletes is harsh, as they compete at the highest levels but struggle to secure sponsorships. With the Paris Olympics knocking on the door, the track and field world experienced an unforeseen shift. This dramatic turn of events is about sponsorships, especially since Fred Kerley called off ties with ASICS. Now, several athletes are coming forward with the saddening reality of being unpaid. 

One example is the track and field alum from Oregon and World Champion finalist Jillian Weir. Her story is truly heartbreaking, given her shiny career where she won a bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games and a silver in the NACAC U23 Championships. As Fred Kerley’s break with ASICS creates a buzz, it highlights the sobering reality of numerous athletes facing the Paris Olympics without major sponsorships.

Jillian Weir, Fred Kerley, and others bring to notice the lack of sponsorship 

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In a recent Twitter post, World Champion finalist Jillian Weir laid out how older athletes often miss out on sponsorship and brand deals. She captioned the post stating, “I had the best year (so far) in my throwing career at 29 years old. Went into the world champs ranked 27th and placed 5th then finished the season with a top 10 world ranking and remained unsponsored. The harsh reality is that no sponsors cared and I was told that I was too old”. 

She highlighted her achievements at 29 years old, where she rose from being ranked 27th to placing 5th at the World Championships and finishing the season in the top 10 global rankings. Her follow-up comment reveals that even as an Olympian and a three-time World Championship qualifier, she and other accomplished athletes often receive only kits without financial compensation or bonuses, which she finds “insulting”.

This all came in reaction to a tweet by Citius Mag where they interviewed Eric Holt after the 2024 NYC Grand Prix. Holt shared his side about competing and supporting himself as an unsponsored athlete. This is despite him having a great season where he ran the 1500m dash and came second with a time of 3:34:05s.

Holt said, The problem is I’m a little older. I just started getting good at 29 years old. I’m just showing people that if you have the desire and you’re good enough, anything can happen. My dream to make this a fairytale ending is to one day be sponsored.

The plight of older athletes is especially heartbreaking and Weir has always been vocal about her hardships. Usually, athletes have to pay for training, equipment, and traveling costs to fly and compete in meets all over the world. This pushed them to take up multiple jobs in addition to training.

She made a tweet back in March reaching out to sponsors, saying, Getting ready to begin my 2024 season, doing it unsponsored can be pretty tough. Looking for some sponsors/partnerships to back me on my path to my second Olympic team. Let’s connect! Another athlete to have joined the wagon for now is Olympic silver medalist Fred Kerley.

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Recently, after showing up wearing Puma spikes at the 2024 NYC Grand Prix, he raised some eyebrows. This is because he used to be an ASICS-sponsored sprinter until later that day when the brand terminated their deal, which had been fixed in 2023. Before this, Kerley used to be sponsored by Nike in 2022. For now, Kerley seems to be a free agent. These financial challenges are forcing many athletes to reconsider their plans and seek new opportunities.

Sponsorship struggles cast a shadow on the Paris Olympics dreams of many athletes

Many athletes have spoken up about the sorry state of their finances. Especially given how the most profitable way of earning for most athletes is through brand deals and not prize money. Notably, Gwen Barry, who is a record-holding hammer thrower, was abandoned by her sponsors when she spoke about racial injustice at the awards podium in the 2019 Pan-Am Games.

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Even Gabby Thomas has criticized the lack of funding, especially in track and field outside of the Olympic cycle. German sprinter Alicia Schmidt also revealed how she and her teammates make an equivalent of $739 per month from sponsorships, even though their training and traveling bills rack up much higher. 

It was disappointing to see good athletes like Craig Nowak, Courtney Okolo, and Emma Gee wear unbranded singlets in the 2023 USATF National Outdoor Championships because they were unable to secure any sponsorship. But in some ways, the error is being rectified. The Olympic Association has announced a $50,000 prize money for the winners of Olympic gold in track and field. Even on a collegiate level, NIL deals greatly help young athletes out. Though this is not much, it can be seen as a step in the right direction.