One Of Kenosha’s Own Is King Of The Mountain

Steve Brunner: International...Sports...Olympics


Tell us a little bit about King of the Mountain Sports Marketing?

King of the Mountain Sports Marketing is a company I founded when I left the U.S. Olympic Committee more than 14 years ago. We’re mainly a sports events-based marketing and communications company. We work in the Olympic and endurance (mainly professional cycling) space. We’ve been the marketing agency for many of the top professional cycling races in the U.S. but also have worked several World Championships for various sports, including most recently lacrosse and wrestling. We’ve also represented several athletes over the years and done some consulting. A small crew but big world-class events.

You were very active with the United States Olympic Committee, is that how you ended up living in Colorado Springs? 

When I left the U.S. Olympic Committee several years ago, I knew I wanted to found my own company. I always liked the agency business and I’m not a corporate-kind-of-guy. Colorado Springs, where I was living, had no real sports marketing agencies in the Olympic world, and it seemed logical to start here. Plus, my whole family is outdoorsy and likes it here.

Early in your career I know you were one of the country’s foremost experts in cycling, how did that come about?  Were you into bike racing? 

My roots go back to covering the races at the Velodrome in Kenosha for the newspaper. I did that for two summers while in college. I always liked the sport and wanted to try it competively but never had the money for a bike as a kid. After I ran in college, I wanted to keep competing and took up triathlons and duathlons and probably was better as a multi-sport athlete than just a runner. I fell in love with the bike. Then, I got offered a job to work the Tour de Trump (yes, named after Donald Trump) and moved out east to work on that event, which was a 12-day bike race patterned after the Tour de France. The race went through places like New York, Boston, Washington. It got me vested in the sport and the culture which I liked.

Who are some of the people you’ve worked for in your career?

I worked for Donald Trump and Ted Turner for starters. I was young and somewhat green and had to present to them which made me sharpen my skills quickly. Both were world-class characters. Ted Turner was one of the smartest guys I ever met. Brilliant. One of my biggest influences, however, was a guy named Mike Plant. He was an Olympic speed skater who grew up in Milwaukee. He was my first real boss and I worked for him on two occasions. Unbelievable work ethic and a guy who was street smart and unrelenting in getting things done. He’s one of the Atlanta Braves’ presidents now. I also worked for Jim Scherr on two occasions. He went on to become the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee. He was a former Olympic wrestler who was super smart and understood long-term strategies. In my opinion one of the best CEOs the USOC has seen.

Who are some of the athletes you’ve worked with or met in your career?

I’ve been super fortunate in my career. I worked with the original Dream Team and met all those guys like Larry Bird to Magic Johnson to Michael Jordan. I’ve also met almost all of the world’s top cyclists of the past couple decades including Greg Lemond, Lance Armstrong. And, Olympic icons  like Bob Beamon, Jim Ryan, Carl Lewis, Dan Gable, and Mary Lou Retton, and more contemporaries like Rulon Gardner, Michael Phelps, speedskater Apollo Ohno and Dan O’Brien (former decathlon world record holder). Boxers Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Marvin Hagler, and Joe Frazier. In my business, I’m not really star struck, even as a huge sports fan growing up. I’ve never asked for an autograph because I thought it was not being professional. The athletes that haveleft an impression have been the ones that surprised themselves and won a gold medal like Rulon Gardner or won a race breaking through as a youngster trying to make it in the pros.

You have been all over the world covering sports and involved in the Olympics, where is the coolest place you have been? 

Really I never thought a kid from the (then) blue collar city of Kenosha, WI, would go so many places and be a part of so many cool sporting events. We staged an event that finished at the Great Wall in China in the 1990s, well before the country was open to a lot of Westerners. I’ve been on the set of The Tonight Show three times with three different athletes. I’ve worked six Olympics on four continents. Sydney ranks among the top for cities but going to Beijing and last year to Tel Aviv and is just so different. On the personal front, I love New Zealand where I bungee-jumped off a 365-foot bridge  and  then just this summer I ran in the Scottish Highlands through shades of green I didn’t know existed.

Going local for a minute, if it was game day at Newman Park and everyone was in their prime, you have first pick for an old-fashioned Newman Nugget baseball game, who ya’ takin? 

Man, that’s stretching the boundaries of the memory bank. I do remember playing baseball, basketball and football literally everyday growing up in the Newman Park district. That said, probably Paul Grochowski. He batted left-handed, had a sweet swing and the home run was the pavement and the field was short going to right.

I know you were recently back in KTown, did you get a chance to do anything KTownish while you were here? 

I was back for my brother’s daughter’s wedding. Visited a lot of family. Had to have Pizza. Had to go to The Spot. Common Grounds downtown for coffee. Drove my youngest son, who is in high school, past my old-school St. Joseph. Kenosha is not short on great food. There is NOWHERE in the world with better pizza or Italian food than K-town. I think my five best pizzas are in Kenosha. Oh, and I made the annual stop to Tenutas. You’re blessed with great food and great people in Kenosha.

What do you miss most about your hometown?

Family, food, and running at Parkside. The lakefront isn’t bad either.

What is next on the horizon for Kenosha’s own King of the Mountain? 

Things are never dull in sports marketing. I am working on a big one-day professional race in Baltimore and just got done working a world lacrosse event (in Canada). Believe it or not, I’ve been back in Wisconsin and meeting with various officials on a world-class event in a TBD city for 2021 or 2022. We’ll see what happens. FYI, unfortunately it’s not Kenosha.

You’ve obviously interviewed and worked with some of the giants of the sports industry, who were you most “star struck” by? 

Not Bob Costas, he’s on my least favorite list. I’ve met a lot of great people, many with A-type tendencies, which can be perceived as arrogant or selfish, but you learn that most world-class athletes all have that trait in common to become the best.  On the athlete front. maybe Magic Johnson or Larry Bird because I was a big basketball player in my formative years when they were stars. Like a true Kenoshan, I’ve always tried to stay humble and do my job, not stray into idol worship. My mom and dad always raised us to treat everyone the same. I’ve tried to carry that throughout my life and career.

Last question….be honest, the King of the Mountain name really came from running up the side of a 30-foot around, 20 foot high chunk of ice in the corner of the St. Mary’s playground only to get thrown down on our faces, right? 

That’s hilarious and true at the same time. Judging by the number of fights or crazy things I did as a kid like King of the Mountain on a snow hill in a parking lot, I’m glad to have made it out of childhood alive. KING OF THE MOUNTAIN is a cycling term, but, also is a nod to location of the company which is in the shadows of Pikes Peak here in Colorado Springs.