Welcome to the Forever Faster Fraternity
Editor’s note: Ahead of the athletics World Championships this week, Puma invited TEMPO to check out their takeover of a Eugene, OR, frat house.
Puma hired two dozen movers to remodel the interior of a frat house in Eugene, Oregon, ahead of this week’s World Athletics Championships. They traded beer pong tables for displays of vintage spikes: specifically, Usain Bolt’s from the Beijing Olympics. They exchanged framed photos of every member of the fraternity for framed photos of celebrated Puma athletes. The list continues. Puma combed every square foot of that house – with one exception left to remind everybody where they actually were. A PlayStation 5 remained, idly displaying the home screen which offered two classic options: Fifa and Fortnite.
Puma CEO Bjørn Gulden reminded everybody that his company has been around longer than most other major brands. In the brand’s 75th year making sportswear and sponsoring athletes, Gulden said, “I feel no pressure, only joy. I think sport is the best thing in life.”
Gulden then welcomed six of Puma’s most accomplished and admired athletes to the stage. Gianmarco Tamberi, the Italian high jumper and Tokyo Olympics champion, stood side by side with the Ukrainian high jumper, and reigning indoor world champion, Yaroslava Mahuchikh. Also on the stage were the world-record holder in men’s hurdles, Norway’s Karsten Warholm, and the reigning Olympic champion in the 200m, Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse, Pole vaulters Sandi Morris (USA, current indoor world champion) and Mondo Duplantis, the Swedish world-record holder, completed the incredible line-up via video call.
Duplantis was asked, “Why you? Why Mondo?” The crowd was probably expecting him to talk about luck, or the grace of God or circumstance, but he instead said, “I just always felt like I was really capable of what I was doing. I can be the world-record holder, the Olympic champion and, hopefully soon, the world champion.” Cue the crowd’s laughter at his solipsism. He offered a caveat: “Of course, I don't take it for granted, but I've done a lot to get here.”
Tamberi was asked about sharing the gold medal in Tokyo with Mutaz Barshim in the defining moment of his career. He spoke about how he has a psychological coach who trains him to focus during competition. “It's like there's a shadow around and I can only see my approach and the bar,” he said. “I can't hear. I can't see. I can't do anything but focus on what's in front of me.”
Mahuchikh was asked about the ongoing war in her home country. “In competition it's given me extra strength to show good results. I want to bring good news to the Ukrainian people,” she said.
Warholm has been dealing with injury this season, and when he was asked “How’s that leg?” he responded with an almost abrasive confidence that felt out of place but still landed charmingly.
“The past five weeks have been pretty close to hell. I don't know what hell feels like, but now I feel like we’re back,” he said. “I feel safe to say we're going in there and going one hundred percent. There is no such thing as going into a championship and just feeling okay.”
Morris, the only American on the panel, was asked about what she thinks it’ll be like to compete on home soil. “I can't wait to go out there and see all those American flags and feel the home crowd support. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she replied.
De Grasse, who over the course of this season has caught Covid and experienced a serious foot injury, was asked about his comeback. He hasn’t broken 10 seconds in the 100m or 20 seconds in the 200m yet this year but, he said, “Every race, I'm chippin’ away. I've had a lot of experience at Hayward, winning NCAAs. It'll come. I just need to go out there, relax, have fun and it'll come to me.”
During this World Championships, Puma’s athletes will also debut a new wave of shoes. The evoSPEED series, with its Nitro foam, now includes jumping spikes and a second iteration of marathon flats. Erin Longin, global director of Puma’s Run/Train unit, said the company takes the athletes’ feedback very seriously in designing their products.
“We don't take the same approach as other brands and try to get the same shoe on everybody,” she said. “Athletes within the same event have different preferences.”
Gulden echoed this focus on feedback, saying he’s constantly bugging Warholm’s coach for feedback on the sprint shoes: “I’m probably a pain in the ass.”
If one thing is clear about Puma it’s that their athletes are at the centre of what they do. The six world-beating men and woman on stage seemed to prove that.