Get prepared to see more New Balance jerseys in USATF Championship women’s sprint finals over the next few Olympic cycles. The Boston-based athletic shoe and apparel company signed two collegiate record holders, Sydney McLaughlin and Gabby Thomas, to multi-year contracts in a surprise move over the past two weeks.
Thomas, the collegiate indoor record holder for the 200 meters at 22.38, forfeited her final year of collegiate eligibility at Harvard to turn pro. Her decision came somewhat out of the blue to track fans, though she spent much of the summer in Europe competing in IAAF Diamond League races and even qualified for the final. She set her outdoor personal best of 22.19 in taking runner-up honors at the London Diamond League and though she’s made her mark in that event, a sub-50 second 400m relay split indicates that more quarter miles may be ahead in her professional career.
“It’s been an amazing three years with Harvard track and field, but I have decided to forgo my last year of eligibility and run professionally,” she wrote on Twitter. “Looking forward to where this next chapter in my life takes me!”
Happy to announce that I am officially #TeamNB !!
Its been an amazing three years with Harvard track and field, but I have decided to forgo my last year of eligibility and run professionally. Looking forward to where this next chapter in my life takes me! 💕 pic.twitter.com/h95C5N1nZ6
— Gabrielle Thomas (@ItsGabrielleT) October 8, 2018
She is represented by Paul Doyle of Doyle Management Group.
McLaughlin, meanwhile, announced she would go pro after winning the NCAA 400-meter hurdles title as a true freshman for the University of Kentucky. The decision was no surprise as the now 19-year-old fielded offers to turn professional straight out of the high school.
The surprise, then, was that she waited so long to announce her sponsorship. She signed on with Beverly Hills talent agency William Morris Endeavor in July, according to Sports Business Daily, which will help expand her portfolio in endorsements, content development and fashion. The agency represents a variety of athletes, movie stars and artists, including Allyson Felix, Serena Williams, Cam Newton, Denzel Washington, Ben Affleck and Emma Stone.
According to Jim Lambert for MyCentralJersey.com, Felix’s brother Wes of The Evolve Agency works with WME for McLaughlin’s on-track representation. Wes has served as Allyson’s track and field agent for the majority of her lengthy career.
What was reportedly a “huge bidding war,” according to ESPN Sports Business reporter Darren Rovellsoon erupted. It took McLaughlin and her team another three months to announce her new partnership with New Balance.
The terms of McLaughlin’s deal have not been disclosed, though an anonymous LetsRun survey of professional track and field agents estimated a base salary of at least one million dollars per year.
That amount of money is nearly unheard of in track and field and reflects both McLaughlin’s precocious abilities on the track and her impressive social media following of 109,000 users on Twitter and 301,000 followers on Instagram.
In 2016, McLaughlin became the youngest Team USA track and field Olympian in 40 years when she qualified for the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 in the 400 meter hurdles. Her personal best of 52.75 set new world junior and NCAA records, plus tied her for No. 6 all-time performer in U.S. history and No. 10 all-time performer in world history. McLaughlin also showed unexpected aptitude for the 200 and 400 meters, clocking personal bests of 22.39 and 50.07 outdoors and 22.68 and 50.36 indoors, the latter another world junior record.
Another unique accolade on her resume is her part in the distance medley indoor world record. She was invited by her future sponsor New Balance to participate in a record attempt at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in 2017 along with three Team New Balance athletes: Jenny Simpson, Emma Coburn and Brenda Martinez. McLaughlin contributed a 400 meter leg to the relay and Simpson brought the time home in record time, improving the two-year-old world record from 10:42.57 to 10:40.31.
Coburn sent her congratulations to McLaughlin in an Instagram post of the four women, captioning the relay photo: “Officially making this World Record all #TeamNB [heart emoji] Congrats @sydneymclaughlin16 on joining the @newbalance family!”
Simpson and Martinez also posted photos of the world record-breaking quartet, with Martinez writing “You made my life!!”
The prior DMR world record also belonged to a New Balance-sponsored quartet that included Martinez, Sarah Brown, Mahagony Jones and Megan Krumpoch. With Simpson, Coburn and Martinez still in top form and with McLaughlin and Thomas looking at long careers ahead, it stands to reason that Team NB will hold this record for a long time.
“New Balance has a long-standing history as an excellent running company and they are the perfect partner for me,” McLaughlin of her partnership with the global brand. “I’m thrilled to join the Team New Balance family, a brand that not only shares the same values and principles that are important to me but also supports its athletes on and off the track.”
The last U.S.-based sprinter to join Team NB was Baylor product Trayvon Bromell, who set a world junior record of 9.97 in the 100m, won two NCAA titles, then earned a bronze medal at the IAAF World Championships in 2015 as a 20-year-old.
McLaughlin and Thomas are currently the only female sprinters on Team New Balance’s roster.