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Detroit's Hanson Brothers Aim for Gold as Sponsored Runner Makes US Olympic Team

  • Roger Hsu

Determined to cultivate homegrown world class distance runners, two brothers pooled their resources to establish their own running team. Their goal was to return American runners to the world's elite in distance running. For producer Roger Hsu, Elaine Lu says the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project is on the verge of achieving that dream.

"A lot of time people have obsessive-compulsive for bad things like cigarette or alcohol, or gambling,” says Clint Verran, Hansons-Brooks Distance Project. “You think of a person who is an obsessive gambler, he can't stop gambling, he can't stop. Well, I can't stop running."

When Clint Verran is not at his physical therapy business, he is running. Every morning, Verran joins a group of runners at Stony Creek Metro Park outside Detroit.

"(We are) in town there at 7:00 a.m. (we) all run together, the next day we do the same thing. We do workouts together, everything together," says Brian Sell.

Sell and Clint Verran train with the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, a running group set up by brothers Kevin and Keith Hanson in 1999.

Keith Hanson explains the project concept:

"We were disappointed in how the Americans were faring in international competitions,” Hanson says. “Our governing body has done a poor job at marketing our sport as well as developing athletes. One nice thing about our country is we do have private individuals that step up and take over these responsibilities that many think the governing body should do."

Being avid runners themselves, Keith and his older brother Kevin "stepped up."

Kevin Hanson adds, "In 1999 my brother Keith and I began the program as an attempt to try to bring distance running back to a level that was competitive on a world scale."

Verran was one of the project's original runners.

"Running as a sport in and of itself is not as exciting to watch on TV as a baseball, basketball or football game,” he says. “... so to expect people just to get excited about distance running just because we are out there is just not going to happen."

Limited fan support means less sponsorship for distance runners. Determined to develop their own team, the Hanson brothers' have been spending $250,000 each year to cover the runner's housing, medical insurance, coaching and travel expenses, allowing athletes like Brian Sell to focus on training.

"Pretty much everybody here was the top guy on their college team and nobody likes to lose, so it's a constant competition every day," Sell says.

The team's success led to the shoe company Brooks Running to become a team sponsor in 2003. The car company Saturn signed on after the team's strong showing at the 2006 Boston Marathon.

The brothers' dreams were realized last November when team member Brian Sell made the U.S. Olympic team by finishing third in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

"It wasn't really even on my radar when I first came out here because I never really thought that was possible," Sell says.

As far as the Hanson brothers are concerned, when it comes to running, anything is possible, a spirit that lives in their motto: "Only those that attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible."

"When you take someone like Brian Sell and you watch him through his hard works and his efforts, develop to a point where all of a sudden now he is one of those guys, it means more than the guys that was always one of those guys,” says Kevin Hanson. “So there is a little bit more satisfaction there."