Spartan Race CEO Joe De Sena Eyes Olympics

By Matt Swenson, March 8, 2017

To understand why Spartan Race founder and CEO Joe De Sena moved to Japan this year, you must understand his vision.

In 2000, he created a series of extreme obstacle-based events known as Death Race. He then spent a decade tweaking the product, from the courses to the branding. “We were figuring out what would appeal to people on a mass scale,” he says.

By any name, Spartan Race is meant to challenge people’s definition of health and fitness. De Sena’s ideas don’t stop there. He keeps pushing the company’s boundaries to bring about fundamental societal change globally.

Having already created the first all-female race in Saudi Arabia, Spartan is now moving forward in Japan, China and Cuba, where the company launches a new race Oct. 7.

Spartan’s visionary leader remains on the move too. His family, including two young children, spent 2016 in Singapore before touching down in Japan. “We’re a long way from Vermont,” says the New England native.

Spartan Race Goes for Gold

Don’t be surprised to see De Sena land next in Lausanne, Switzerland, home of the International Olympic Committee. After all, Spartan Race’s name harkens back to ancient Greece, birthplace of the Olympics.

Spartan Race will produce between 180 and 200 events in 2017. De Sena guesses the company will eventually max out at 250. Of more immediate concern is the number of countries in which Spartan holds competitions.

The magic number appears to be 40, the amount De Sena estimates will impress the IOC enough to turn the Spartan concept into an Olympic sport.

“The goal from the beginning is to make this a legitimate sport,” says De Sena. “If it’s an Olympic sport, it’s here to stay.”

Spartan Race’s television deal with NBC—rights holder for the Summer Games since 1988 and Winter Games since 2002—is no accident.

If De Sena is right, it’s a matter of when, not if, he hits gold with the Olympics. He puts the odds on joining the 2020 Tokyo Games at 50-50, four years earlier than the original 2024 goal.

So committed to the goal is De Sena that he wouldn’t rule out leaving Spartan to spearhead an Olympic movement if needed.

De Sena has altruistic motives for pushing the Olympics. But there are financial considerations as well. Seemingly a lifetime ago, De Sena made a fortune on Wall Street—enough to get Spartan where it is. But the company’s massive growth and expansion have come at a price.

“I didn’t think I’d be this broke this fast,” says De Sena.

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