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Symmonds Signs With Brooks, Eyes Future

The world championships silver medalist wants to break Johnny Gray's American record.

The world championships silver medalist wants to break Johnny Gray’s American record.

Nick Symmonds has been in “Beast Mode” for most of his pro career. Today that status becomes official.

Brooks announced the signing of the middle-distance track star to a multi-year deal today. The 800-meter silver medalist from last summer’s IAAF World Championships in Moscow officially changes his shoe and apparel sponsors from Nike (his contract expired on New Year’s Eve) to Brooks and becomes the headliner of the Brooks Beast Track Club.

Symmonds, one of the biggest personalities in running, will use the sponsorship as his base income as he trains toward the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but he also hopes to capitalize on the successful and creative legacy Brooks has developed in recent years to increase his exposure and potential for future business opportunities.

It isn’t a huge surprise that Symmonds, who turned 30 on Dec. 30, left Nike — which has a recent history of not re-signing track athletes after they’ve achieved a pinnacle of success — but it’s still a big coup for Brooks.

“It’s a big change, but it’s the right decision for me,” Symmonds said in an interview on Jan. 1. “What really drew me to Brooks was their marketing team. They’re just so innovative, so creative. We sat down for a 45-minute brainstorming session and right away we came up with a dozen great, fun ideas we could do together.”

Seattle-based Brooks, the No. 1 running shoe brand at specialty running retail shops with a 34 percent share of the market, is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, the corporate conglomerate headed by Warren Buffet. It recent years under the leadership of CEO Jim Weber, Brooks has become known for the fun vibe it oozes at race expos and in its advertising — most notably for its long-running “Run Happy!” campaign and for hiring the Sklar Brothers comedic duo as pitchmen, but it has also shown a strong commitment to American distance runners.

RELATED: Symmonds Considers Reality TV

Symmonds has been forthcoming about how tough it is to earn a living as a professional runner in the U.S., where only a handful of distance runners have gained notoriety in the mainstream in recent years. Throughout his pro career, Symmonds has gained attention for his running exploits — his 800-meter victory at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., is one of the most thrilling races on American soil in recent years — but he’s also gained notoriety off the track, including petitioning to change athlete sponsorship rules, speaking out against Russia’s anti-gay laws after last summer’s world championships and even going on a date with Paris Hilton.

Symmonds has put his house in Eugene, Ore., up for sale and plans to relocate to Seattle — though he says he will still spend time in Los Angeles, Flagstaff, Ariz., and Mexico as he has done for the past several years while pursuing various training sessions and business opportunities. Later this year, Beverly Hills publishing group Cool Titles will be publishing Symmonds’ autobiography, a book he says details his rise to becoming one of the world’s top middle-distance runners but also his story about a young man coming of age in the 21st century.

Symmonds was ranked No. 2 in the world in 2013 with a 1:43:03 season-best time and won one of the biggest 800-meter races of the year in London on July 26.

“I want to continue run fast, but I also want to position myself well for developing a career after running, and I think this relationship with Brooks will help me create fun, innovative things,” said Symmonds, who says he’ll pursue several American records on track during the indoor and outdoor seasons this year.

Brooks has sponsored the Michigan-based Hansons Original Distance Program since 2003, helping Brian Sell (2008) and Desiree Davila (2012) earn Olympic marathon berths and dozens of American runners continue to develop after college. It also sponsors U.S. marathoners Amy Hastings and Ryan Vail, ultrarunning champion Scott Jurek and track athletes Angela Bizzarri and Mark Wieczorek, among others.

RELATED: Symmonds Earns Silver At Worlds

[Since 2008, Brooks has also been the sponsor of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, which is owned by Competitor’s parent company, Competitor Group.]

Symmonds is planning to focus more on the 1500m run over the next several years, but says he hopes to run both the 800m and 1500m at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. He finished fifth in the 2012 Olympics in the fastest 800m race in history, setting a new PR of 1:42.95. That time made him the third-fastest American ever at that distance, behind four-time Olympian Johnny Gray (1:42.60) and contemporary rival Duane Salomon (1:42.82), who finished fourth in London. Symmonds also owns fifth- and sixth-place finishes from the 2011 and 2009 world championships, respectively.

“I was always a little bit nervous that I would be left out of the history books in this American resurgence of distance running because I didn’t have a medal,” he said. “So now to have the medal, I really feel as though I’ve earned my spot. I want to continue to try to put myself, and hopefully watch other Americans, go for gold. The silver was great, but I really wanted to be on top.”

Symmonds owns a 1500m PR of 3:34.55 but he thinks he can run faster by bumping up his training a bit and losing five pounds off his typical 160-pound racing weight. He’s planning to race five indoor races and then focus on the 1500-meter run at the June 26-29 U.S. outdoor track championships in Sacramento, Calif., before switching back to the 800 — and the pursuit of Gray’s U.S. record — on the European circuit for the rest of the summer.

“To be a really good 1500-meter runner, I’ll have to sacrifice a touch my explosiveness that I have as an 800-meter runner so I can be a little more efficient in the 1500,” he admits. “I typically run 60 to 70 miles a week in training and if I can get by body used to running more like 70 to 80 miles per week, I think that would be appropriate for the kind of training I’ll be doing when I focus on the 1500.”

RELATED: Competitor’s 2013 Runners Of The Year

Interestingly, Symmonds is the third American silver medalist in recent years to be dropped (or not re-signed) by Nike, following Leo Manzano (silver medal, 1500m, 2012 Olympics) and Meb Keflezighi (silver medal, marathon, 2004 Olympics). Manzano has been without a sponsor since the fall, while Keflezighi was signed by Skechers in 2010.

Symmonds hasn’t pondered retirement yet, but he says he’ll always want to be involved in running. However, he did say that his top athletic pursuit after he retires from track and field would be climbing the Seven Summits, the highest mountains of each of the seven continents. He says that was a goal he set for himself before he set a goal to run in the Olympics.

“I’d like to continue to have a role in the future after I retire, whether it’s through USA Track & Field or Brooks, or something that allows me to continue to have a foot in the door and stay involved in the sport,” Symmonds said. “I love the sport of track and field and I think it has a lot of potential if we could make it a little bit more fun for the average viewer.”