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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Olympian Derrick Mein ends U.S. men’s trap drought at shotgun worlds

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Tokyo Olympian Derrick Mein became the first U.S. male shooter to win a world title in the trap event since 1966, prevailing at the world shotgun championships in Osijek, Croatia, on Wednesday.

Mein, who grew up on a small farm in Southeast Kansas, hunting deer and quail, nearly squandered a place in the final when he missed his last three shots in the semifinal round after hitting his first 22. He rallied in a sudden-death shoot-off for the last spot in the final by hitting all five of his targets.

He hit 33 of 34 targets in the final to win by two over Brit Nathan Hales with one round to spare.

The last U.S. man to win an Olympic trap title was Donald Haldeman in 1976.

Mein, 37, was 24th in his Olympic debut in Tokyo (and placed 13th with Kayle Browning in the mixed-gender team event).

The U.S. swept the Tokyo golds in the other shotgun event — skeet — with Vincent Hancock and Amber English. Browning took silver in women’s trap.

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Mo Farah withdraws before London Marathon

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British track legend Mo Farah withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon, citing a right hip injury before what would have been his first 26.2-mile race in nearly two years.

Farah, who swept the 2012 and 2016 Olympic track titles at 5000m and 10,000m, said he hoped “to be back out there” next April, when the London Marathon returns to its traditional month after COVID moved it to the fall for three consecutive years. Farah turns 40 on March 23.

“I’ve been training really hard over the past few months and I’d got myself back into good shape and was feeling pretty optimistic about being able to put in a good performance,” in London, Farah said in a press release. “However, over the past 10 days I’ve been feeling pain and tightness in my right hip. I’ve had extensive physio and treatment and done everything I can to be on the start line, but it hasn’t improved enough to compete on Sunday.”

Farah switched from the track to the marathon after the 2017 World Championships and won the 2018 Chicago Marathon in a then-European record time of 2:05:11. Belgium’s Bashir Abdi now holds the record at 2:03:36.

Farah returned to the track in a failed bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, then shifted back to the roads.

Sunday’s London Marathon men’s race is headlined by Ethiopians Kenenisa Bekele and Birhanu Legese, the second- and third-fastest marathoners in history.

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