Boris Berian, McDonald’s man turned 800m champ, may miss Olympics due to sponsor dispute

Boris Berian
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By day, Boris Berian took orders at the fast-food counter, flipped burgers and cooked fries to make ends meet.

By dusk, he trained to become one of the fastest 800m runners in the United States.

Now, he wonders if all that hard work will really pay off. Berian’s biggest opponent these days isn’t on the track, but in the courtroom. A lawsuit filed by Nike dealing with what sort of gear Berian wears threatens to derail what looked like a for-sure trip to the Rio Olympics this summer.

And to think, Berian used to daydream about big endorsement deals while working the 8 a.m.-to-2 p.m. shift at a McDonald’s inside a Walmart in Colorado Springs, Colo.

How times have changed: His coach said the 23-year-old Berian would consider retiring rather than race for Nike after this grievance, which could possibly keep him from the starting line on July 1 at the Olympic Trials.

“It’s just sad. You can’t do this to a kid who’s done nothing to you,” said Carlos Handler, who trains Berian at the Big Bear Track Club in California. “I’ve told people that when it’s all said and done, he will be the American record holder.”

Nike signed Berian on June 17, 2015, during a breakout season. The contract went through December 31 and gave the shoe and apparel company the right to match any other offers.

Berian signed a deal with New Balance, but Nike maintained that its sponsorship remained in effect since the company properly exercised its right of first refusal. Berian’s side feels certain terms of the New Balance deal were more favorable.

While the controversy has played out, Berian has continued to excel on the track, winning a World Indoor title in Portland, Ore., in March, against a field that lacked most Rio Olympic 800m medal favorites.

At a meet last month in Southern California, Berian was served a lawsuit by Nike that accused him of breach of contract. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon on April 29.

In a statement, Nike said it “values its relationships with athletes and we expect them to honor their contractual commitments. Where necessary we’ll take steps to protect our rights.”

A judge has at least temporarily banned him from wearing the footwear of any Nike competitor including but not limited to New Balance. There’s another hearing set for June 21.

“Apparently myself alone can cause harm to a MULTI-BILLION dollar company Nike,” Berian posted on his Twitter account. He recently ended a tweet with the hashtag, “FreeBoris.”

A promising runner out of Widefield High School in Colorado Springs, Berian went to Adams State in Alamosa, where he won indoor and outdoor national titles as a freshman.

But he struggled with his eligibility because of grades. He practiced, just couldn’t race.

“It was annoying, because my fitness was getting crazy,” Berian said. “The workouts were getting easier and faster. But the fact I couldn’t compete was driving me crazy.”

He dropped out and embarked on his own in the spring of 2014. A friend offered him a couch to crash on and he found a job at McDonald’s.

Each day he would ride his bike or walk the nearly three miles to work the early shift, leaving him time to train in the evening.

“I was hoping to make enough money to train and travel to meets,” he said. “Hopefully run fast and get sponsored. It was a hard goal, but it was enough to keep me going.”

For weeks, that was his routine — completing workouts from a log book he kept.

“There were a few days working at McDonald’s that got me down — making a little bit of money, going back home tired and training at the track,” Berian said. “But just a couple of days like that.”

That’s when Hall of Fame coach Joe Vigil entered the picture. Vigil, the former coach at Adams State for three decades, kept tabs on Berian by following his track exploits and then lost track of him. Vigil got back in touch with Berian and recommended him to Handler, whose wife, Brenda Martinez, is also instructed by Vigil.

Handler offered Berian a place to live and train in Big Bear. Berian accepted and soon joined the training group — after submitting his two-week notice, of course.

Almost instantly, Handler knew there was something different about Berian. His speed and work ethic were impressive.

“He was just meant to be a runner,” Handler said. “It just took someone to get out of their own way to actually give him a chance.”

In July 2015, he turned in a blistering time of 1 minute, 43.34 seconds, which ranks among the fastest ever by an American.

Last month, Berian won the Prefontaine Classic — a meet sponsored by Nike.

Heading into Rio, he’s heard the cute comments about him going from fry cook to potential Olympian, such as “From ‘Golden Arches’ to a gold medal.” He appreciates it.

He just hopes he gets the chance to try.

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Noah Lyles runs personal best and is coming for Usain Bolt’s world record

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Noah Lyles ran a personal-best time in the 60m on Saturday, then reaffirmed record-breaking intentions for the 100m and, especially, the 200m, where Usain Bolt holds the fastest times in history.

Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 60m sprint in 6.51 seconds at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston, clipping Trayvon Bromell by two thousandths in his first top-level meet of the year. Bromell, the world 100m bronze medalist, is a past world indoor 60m champion and has a better start than Lyles, which is crucial in a six-second race.

But on Saturday, Lyles ran down Bromell and shaved four hundredths off his personal best. It bodes well for Lyles’ prospects come the spring and summer outdoor season in his better distances — the 100m and 200m.

“This is the moment I’ve been working, like, seven years for,” he said. “We’re not just coming for the 200m world record. We’re coming for all the world records.”

Last July, Lyles broke Michael Johnson‘s 26-year-old American record in the 200m, winning the world title in 19.31 seconds. Only Bolt (19.19) and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake (19.26) have run faster.

Lyles has since spoken openly about targeting Bolt’s world record from 2009.

How does an indoor 60m time play into that? Well, Lyles said that his success last year sprung from a strong indoor season, when he lowered his personal best in the 60m from 6.57 to 6.56 and then 6.55. He followed that by lowering his personal best in the 200m from 19.50 to 19.31.

He believes that slicing an even greater chunk off his 60m best on Saturday means special things are on the horizon come the major summer meets — the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in July (on the same Oregon track where he ran the American 200m record) and the world championships in Budapest in August.

After focusing on the 200m last year, Lyles plans to race both the 100m and the 200m this year. He has a bye into the 200m at world championships, so expect him to race the 100m at USATF Outdoors, where the top three are in line to join world champ Fred Kerley on the world team.

Lyles’ personal best in the 100m is 9.86, a tenth off the best times from Kerley, Bromell and 2019 World 100m champ Christian Coleman. Bolt is in his own tier at 9.58.

Also Saturday, Grant Holloway extended a near-nine-year, 50-plus-race win streak in the 60m hurdles, clocking 7.38 seconds, nine hundredths off his world record. Olympic teammate Daniel Roberts was second in 7.46. Trey Cunningham, who took silver behind Holloway in the 110m hurdles at last July’s world outdoor championships, was fifth in 7.67.

Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 60m in 7.02 seconds, one week after clocking a personal-best 6.98 to become the third-fastest American in history after Gail Devers and Marion Jones (both 6.95). Hobbs, 26, placed sixth in the 100m at last July’s world championships.

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the Olympic and world 400m hurdles champion competing for the first time since August, and Jamaican Shericka Jackson, the world 200m champion, were ninth and 10th in the 60m heats, just missing the eight-woman final.

In the women’s pole vault, Bridget Williams, seventh at last year’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, upset the last two Olympic champions — American Katie Moon and Greek Katerina Stefanidi. Williams won with a 4.63-meter clearance (and then cleared 4.71 and a personal-best 4.77). Stefanidi missed three attempts at 4.63, while Moon went out at 4.55.

The indoor track and field season continues with the Millrose Games in New York City next Saturday at 4 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win

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One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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