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Entering the unknown in sport and business

On co-founder Olivier Bernhard knows what it’s like to take on new challenges, from pushing the limits as a pro athlete to redefining the running industry as an entrepreneur. Here, he tells us what it takes to keep pushing the envelope.

With On athlete Javi Gomez pushing himself into a new unknown at the Ironman World Championships, we spoke with his fiancee and his coach to understand what that takes, both mentally and physically. Now we get insight from someone who has been there. A winner of multiple Ironman events and duathlon world titles, On co-founder Olivier Bernhard knows exactly how it feels to head into uncharted territory. 


Just as On triathlete Javi Gomez is now heading into the unknown at full Iron distance, you pushed yourself over new distances in your sporting career. What does an athlete need to consider when making that leap?

At an athletic level it is all about finding your ultimate limit. For some it is distance, for some it is speed, and for others it is altitude. Importantly, going longer distance requires more mental strength. Being with yourself on the road leaves you with lots of time for inner dialogues. If you don’t have answers to all the nasty questions then you’ll end up back in the hotel room instead of crossing the finish line. 



Javi is striving to balance the wisdom and calm of experience with his fiery inner competitor. Can you relate to that?  

You need both sides in perfect balance throughout the race to connect to your inner best. To be too fearless too soon in such a long competition might be fatal if you find yourself exhausted early. But allowing too many thoughts from past races and achievements into your head might block you from reaching your full potential, preventing you from being alert to what is happening on the course in that moment. 


You went into the unknown not only as an athlete, but as a co-founder of On. How did the stepping into the business world compare with taking on a new challenge as an athlete?

It’s actually not that different at all. You have a dream, you build a vision of how to get there and then it’s about executing. You can think of it like climbing a really tall mountain. The trick is to go step by step, never looking up to see if the top is still there. You know best that the summit of the mountain (your dream) is not going anywhere. All you need now is patience and the right people around you.


In my work at On, I still look at most things with an athlete’s mindset. I know that good things need time to turn out really well, and that you will only succeed if you are balanced in every way.  

The Cloudflow
When you keep stepping up the distance – and the pace – you need a shoe you can count on. For training and racing, Javi chooses the Cloudflow
See Javi's shoe


Where does your personal motivation to take on new challenges come from?

I simply love challenges. Without them I would get bored quickly. Challenges shape your success but also reveal your weaknesses. 


You’ve met, and worked with, countless athletes in your time. What is it that enables certain competitors to succeed even when the challenge increases?  

The most successful athletes have no doubt in their abilities. They stay calm and know exactly how to react when things do not go according to plan.


What would your advice be for someone looking to step into their own “unknown”?  

Have no fear. Follow your dreams. Believe in yourself. 


Hear about Javi’s preparations for Kona from the legend himself at on-running/intotheunknown

Follow Javi as he heads into the unknown over the full Ironman distance when you subscribe to the On Newsletter. You’ll also hear first about our latest performance tech.