By Jonathan Gault
August 10, 2020
This morning, Swiss running brand On today officially released its full eight-athlete roster of its newly-formed On Athletics Club, which will be located in Boulder and coached by Dathan Ritzenhein. Last week, LetsRun.com broke the story that the group was forming and that 2019 NCAA cross country runner-up Joe Klecker was the team’s first signing and today we have the complete team, which includes six NCAA champions (four DI champs, two DII champs) as well as a Pan Am Games champ.
Here’s the full roster:
Joe Klecker, 23, USA — Colorado grad was ’19 NCAA runner-up in indoor 5k and cross country. PBs of 7:47/13:30.
Olli Hoare, 23, Australia — 2018 NCAA 1500 and 2019 Big 10 XC champ at Wisconsin. PBs of 3:37/3:54/7:48. Last Monday, Hoare (3:56.8) and Klecker (3:58.4) became the first two athletes to break 4:00 in the mile in a race in Colorado.
Geordie Beamish, 23, New Zealand — 2019 NCAA mile champ was part of three NCAA-title winning XC teams at Northern Arizona. PBs of 3:38/3:56/7:44/13:31.
Carlos Villarreal, 23, Mexico — Best finish of 4th at NCAAs (2019 indoor mile) for Arizona. 2019 Pan Am 1500 champion. PBs of 1:46/3:37/3:56.
Alicia Monson, USA — 2019 NCAA indoor 5k champ was 4th (2018) and 2nd (2019) at NCAA XC for Wisconsin. PBs of 8:45/15:31.
Leah Falland (formerly O’Connor), 27, USA — 2014 NCAA steeple & 2015 NCAA mile champ at Michigan State. PBs of 4:11/4:27/15:36/9:18 steeple. 4th at USA steeple in ’15 but hasn’t run USAs outdoors since ’16.
Emily Oren, 26, USA — 9-time NCAA DII champ at Hillsdale (Mich.) College. 5th at USAs in steeple in ’18. PBs of 4:18/15:37/9:40 steeple.
Alicja Konieczek, 25, Poland — 9-time NCAA DII champ at Western State. Went out in steeple prelims at ’19 Worlds. PBs of 4:21/15:59/9:36.
Quick Take #1: On the men’s side, On is betting heavily on the college class of 2020 — and their recruits have some serious hardware
It’s pretty rare for a pro group to sign three athletes in the same event in the same year. But most pro groups aren’t usually trying to fill out a full roster in one signing period. And the fact is, starting their team during the middle of a pandemic — when most of the other brands aren’t signing new athletes — could wind up as a major coup for On. At least on the men’s side, where all four of their signings are very talented.
Consider: Hoare and Beamish were both NCAA champions in college, and while Villarreal made just one NCAA final, he did demonstrate a terrific kick to win the Pan Am Games last summer. It’s impossible to project how these guys would have run at NCAAs in 2020, but if one of them emerged as a big-time stud, On may have just gotten them at a discount. Hoare and Klecker, with their fast miles last week, have already shown they’re very fit right now.
Another thing worth noting is that while Hoare, Beamish, and Villarreal all run the same event, none of them run for the same country, so they won’t be competing with each other for Olympic or World Championship spots. That’s nice, though the drawback is they won’t have quite the same exposure in the US since none of the three are Americans.
Quick Take #2: The women’s roster is not nearly as strong, though Monson is a nice pickup
Monson and Dani Jones (who remains unsigned but has joined Team Boss in Boulder) were the top two distance women in the class of 2020, so to sign Monson was a big get for On. However, the rest of the OAC women’s group is older and not as accomplished in recent years. Konieczek did make it to Worlds last year in the steeple, but a 9:36 Polish steeplechaser doesn’t really move the needle.
Falland and Oren, meanwhile, likely wouldn’t be getting deals were they not already coached by Ritzenhein. Falland was a stud in college, but has battled injuries in recent years and hasn’t competed at USA outdoors since 2016. On is banking that Ritz will be able to unlock the talent within — Falland did show promise in February by running 4:33 for the mile indoors, her fastest in four years — but the steeple in the US is in a much different place than when Falland was last relevant. Oren’s best accomplishment is taking 5th in the steeple at USAs in 2018. But the issue for Oren, like Falland, is that the US has three of the best steeplers in the world right now in Emma Coburn, Courtney Frerichs, and Colleen Quigley, and it will be very difficult to contend for World and Olympic teams while they’re in the mix.
Quick Take #3: Overall, OAC deserves major props for investing in the sport at a time when many others aren’t
On has announced more NCAA signings this summer than every other shoe company combined. And while that doesn’t make the other companies the bad guys — everyone is feeling the effects of the pandemic, and On didn’t sponsor many runners to begin with — it’s always a good thing when a shoe company is putting money into the sport.
On should also be commended for shooting for (and signing) some top talents. It can be hard for the smaller brands to compete with adidas and, in particular, Nike, who have the deep pockets to outbid anyone. So to come away with three NCAA champions and a blue-chipper like Klecker is quite impressive. Though it obviously helps that the big boys have sat this signing period out so far — in a normal year, there’s no way a stud like Dani Jones would still be unsigned in August.
On’s big investment isn’t without risk — the biggest one being an Olympic cancellation in 2021 — but the reward could be sizable. Few groups are able to start with this much talent from day one.