To break records, even the best in the world can’t go at it alone. One athlete in front but a broad team behind them all playing their parts. For the NN Running Team, all individuals play an essential role, all in different ways but with a common purpose: getting the absolute best for the athletes.
Marleen Vink-Rennings’s first role at Global Sports Communication (GSC) saw her guide athletes to and from races. International travel and working with the best in athletics had excitement for a talented hurdler in the last two years of her university studies in Nijmegen.
After travelling for a short period, Vink-Rennings returned to GSC as an agent and 20 years later is the Marketing Director responsible for showcasing the talents of the dozens of athletes under the Global Sports umbrella and the NN Running Team.
Valentijn Trouw’s path to GSC featured a few years working in insurance but it is in athletics that he has evidenced his strengths. Like his colleague, Trouw came to GSC back in the early 2000s, first as an agent, and has developed into the Performance Director for the NN Running Team.
Trouw now is responsible for ensuring a developed and proactive support network for the NN Running Team groups throughout the world, whilst continuing to manage the careers of some of the team’s biggest stars.
Much has changed for both during their time at GSC.
At the turn of the century, Vink-Rennings came to a company that didn’t have a marketing department. Like the majority of agencies, GSC’s focus was on negotiating the best contracts for individual athletes and placing them in the best races possible.
It was a strategy they had been excelling at for almost 20 years but one done against a backdrop of a market that perhaps saw African athletes facing greater barriers to showcase their talents.
“I've been working in Africa for many years and I just like to give African athletes the same opportunities as Western athletes. There's a gap there and I’d like to bridge it.
I heard in the media so often ‘that African one’ or ‘that Kenyan one’ or ‘that Ethiopian one’. These athletes have names. They have an identity, their own story, background.
The challenges didn’t stop at their representation in the media, however, with athletes in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia traditionally not receiving the same support network as the European and North American athletes they competed against.
Trouw knew that closing this gap could only help his athletes’ performance:
“It’s a much wider approach from the performance side, to try to align the whole team, be it the coaches, the physiotherapists, the sports doctors, nutritionists, try that we keep them all together in the same direction, knowing what is the most important for each athlete at each time.”
Without initially being conscious of it both Vink-Rennings and Trouw were starting to see a potential solution, one which allied with Jos Hermens’ own ambitions as CEO of GSC.
In 2017, GSC made the ground-breaking move to set up the NN Running Team, the sport’s first professional team.
Attracting new sponsors including NN, Nike, INEOS and Abbott, Trouw was receiving the advantage of a developing support network with a wide breadth of knowledge, with Vink-Rennings’ own ambition to shine a greater spotlight on the skills and personalities of the athletes within it.
The success of the INEOS 1:59 project reinforced this approach emphatically. Trouw says:
“During the challenge, I came in touch with cycling, sailing, Formula One. For me, it opened a whole new world. I was asked questions that within the world of athletics I was not used to. For so many years you were in the same world, meeting the same people, having the same conversations. It gave us new knowledge that we are still using today.”
Advancements in nutrition, aerodynamics, strategy, and all innovations in athletics.
Eliud Kipchoge’s earth-shattering 1:59:40 in Vienna showed just how powerful a team can be in elevating the performance of an individual. But it also gave the wider general public an eye into Eliud the person and the character behind him.
Now, five years later the NN Running Team has expanded including a team of around 40 hard-working staff members who are responsible for anything from coaches, managers and physios to innovation, medical support and finance. Everyone has their own role, but there is one common goal: helping the team perform at its’ best.
The Marketing team has also grown throughout the years, now blessed with six experienced full-time members of staff and a small battalion of freelance videographers, photographers, and writers in support.
Eliud’s story will now be quite familiar, but the work continues to engage the audience with all the other personalities the team have to offer.
As Vink-Rennings points out:
“We have this group of athletes who are absolutely the best in the world, world and Olympic champions. They are the stars but the team but behind that is a big group of athletes who will either be the next stars or they might be the best training partners to make sure the stars are as good as they are.”
Pushing each other day in and day out there are natural rivalries within the team but those only push them to ever greater heights. The next evolution? Perhaps even some rivals to the NN Running Team.
Trouw welcomes that competition:
Maybe we'll force other athletes that aren't part of the group to create their own teams because they can see the power of that unit. You want something to move the sport forward.
Slowly but surely people like Vink-Rennings and Trouw are helping to advance the sport, elevate performance and give the athletes their platform to shine.
The NN Running Team is but one part of that change and you can be sure there’ll be plenty more advancements to come.