While Puma's recent decision to continue sponsoring Usain Bolt seemed like a no-brainer, the story was somewhat different a decade ago.
Nowadays, Bolt is widely regarded as the fastest sprinter ever, having won both the 100m and 200m races at the last two Olympic Games. In both years he was also part of the winning team in the 4x100m relay. Plus, he holds eight World Championship gold medals.
Jochen Zeitz, then CEO of Puma, told
that he considered dropping the Jamaican athlete after he failed to shine at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and was criticized for his unprofessional approach.
"We said, 'Well, he's a young guy, but he doesn't really want to train as a hard as he should. He has all the potential but he does get injured. If he doesn't practice he's never going to be great,'" Zeitz said.
Zeitz had a meeting with his team at Puma and they decided it was time to release Bolt, who had joined the brand in 2002. However, the decision did not sit well with Zeitz, who reversed it soon afterwards.
"It was only a couple of weeks later that I said, 'Well, I don't think that's a good idea. Let's just stick with him. I'm sure he can pull it off,'" he told CNBC. "'He's great. He has a great personality. He's a great guy and if he gets a good coach he can do miracles, and let's just stand by him and support him in these difficult times.'"
Shortly afterwards, Bolt was working with new coach Glen Mills, who has since been credited with helping Bolt become a world champion.
"I would have certainly bitten myself if we had continued to actually let him go, so (I am) very thankful for that spark of inspiration," Zeitz said.
Last week, Bolt announced he was renewing his sponsorship deal with Puma until after the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro. Puma is said to be paying Bolt $10 million a year, making the deal the biggest in athletics.
Regarding Bolt's turnaround, Zeitz said: "I think he doesn't like losing and ultimately he realised that he needed to pull himself together. He enjoyed life, he enjoyed his early fame, but he realised that if he didn't really start working hard, he wouldn't have the career that he wanted to have."