The Bowerman Fallout: Why Are So Many Athletes Leaving BTC?

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Bowerman Track Club (BTC) is a renowned American running group sponsored by Nike, best known for its professional distance group and a separate recreational and youth club.

BTC has been a longstanding team in American distance running, established in 2003, and has been home to many decorated American runners. 

However, in recent years, the team has had its fair share of controversy and has seen many athletes part ways, especially in the last few weeks.

Most recently, Elise Cranny, a four-time U.S. Champion, announced her departure from BTC after six seasons. Her departure comes shortly after that of Grant Fisher and Cooper Teare.

In this article, we’ll go over some controversial events that occurred at Bowerman and look at when various athletes said goodbye in hopes of getting closer to figuring out what is causing the “Bowerman Bleed.”

Unsettled Environment After Doping Violation

In January 2021, Bowerman runner Shelby Houlihan was put under a provisional suspension after a doping control sample taken in December 2020 returned positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone.

Houlihan, a decorated 800m and 1,500m runner, immediately denied the claims, saying she’d never even heard of nandrolone. 

Her defense: a tainted pork burrito she bought from a food cart.

Houlihan and Bowerman coach Jerry Schumacher, who also claimed to have never heard of nandrolone, went on to appeal the decision to the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU).

The AIU didn’t buy Houlihan’s burrito story, and she was served a four-year ban.

When a coach is served a ban for doping violations, it is against the rules for them to work with clean athletes. However, the water gets murkier when it comes to athletes serving a ban for doping violations.

Although she lost financial support from Nike, Houlihan continued her relationship with Schumacher and the Bowerman Track Club. Houlihan and Schumacher had a close relationship and had been working together since she graduated from university in 2015.

This rubbed a number of athletes the wrong way, most notably Canadian runner Gabriela DeBues-Stafford. 

In the spring of 2022, DeBues-Stafford announced she was leaving Bowerman Track Club as she did not want to be surrounded by the uncertainty of the effect of Houlihan’s doping ban and her continued involvement with the group. 

Schumacher’s continued relationship with Houlihan following her doping ban has been rumored to be continuing today and still has negative impacts on Bowerman runners.

Schumacher Takes Full-Time Job At Oregon

After 15 years exclusively coaching the Bowerman Track Club, Jerry Schumacher accepted a full-time position as head coach for the cross country and track programs at the University of Oregon.

In addition to his BTC roster, Schumacher is now responsible for overseeing 96 student-athletes at Oregon.

With Schumacher taking on a full-time position at Oregon, there is no doubt he was unable to dedicate as much time to the pro runners at Bowerman as he did before.

As a result of Schumacher accepting the position, Bowerman runners were required to relocate from Portland, Oregon, to Eugene, Oregon. Many BTC runners had laid roots in Eugene and had families, homes, and a community.

For many, the sudden move was frustrating, and with Schumacher spending significantly less energy on the Bowerman team, there is no question the job at Oregon has influenced the increase in BTC departures.

A One-Size Fits All Program That Doesn’t Fit All

The final major controversy coming out of Bowerman is the reported lack of adaptability of Schumacher’s coaching style.

It has been rumored that Schumacher built BTC around a few highly decorated athletes and tailored a program to their needs. When it came to the other athletes, they would follow along.

What raises more questions about the BTC training is the amount of injuries many athletes had during their time under Schumacher.

Now, there is no doubt that runners will suffer injuries from time to time, but it seemed to be the same athletes continuously getting injured at BTC.

Emily Infeld, a talented runner over many distances, left Bowerman in January of 2022. Riddled with injury throughout her time there, her announcement via social media read:

“I’m leaving on good terms, confident I did everything I could to make this situation work. I know I still have more running in me and need to approach training differently.”

Karissa Schweizer, a current member of Bowerman, is another example of an athlete who has suffered injury after injury. 

In 2021, Schweizer had surgery on her right foot to treat severe Haglunds. In 2022, she had another surgery, again on her right foot, to treat an Achilles and calf injury. Just a few weeks ago, she had a third surgery, this time on her left foot, to treat Haglunds.

Where Does Bowerman Go From Here?

Although nothing official has been said about the direction of Bowerman Track Club, it is clear that they are losing athletes at an incredible rate

Following the controversial Houlihan ban and Schumacher’s new position at Oregon, only time will tell what comes next for Bowerman.

What do you think will happen to Bowerman Track Club? Do they have new signings up their sleeve to bolster their team, or do you think they are heading down the path of eventually folding?

Let us know your opinion in the comments.

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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