EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — It’s not so much the logo on the outside of the shoes as the feet on the inside that can carry Boris Berian to the Olympics.
After Nike dropped its lawsuit against him last week, the 800-meter runner was able to concentrate solely on racing. Berian turned in the fastest time in the first round Friday at the U.S. Track and Field Trials while wearing new spikes from New Balance.
“It’s a big weight off my shoulders,” said the 23-year-old Berian, who flipped burgers at a McDonald’s in Colorado Springs, Colorado, two years ago to make ends meet while he trained. “I didn’t know how much it was really bothering me until (Nike) dropped it.”
There was a time when Berian didn’t even know if he would be allowed to compete at trials given the state of the lawsuit.
At a meet in May in Southern California, Berian was sued by Nike Inc., which accused him of breach of contract. His endorsement deal with Nike went through Dec. 31, 2015, but gave the company the right to match any other offers. Nike felt it matched an offer presented by New Balance Athletics Inc., which Berian preferred.
A judge was scheduled to issue a ruling earlier this week before Nike announced it was dropping the suit.
“I was just trying to stay as focused as I can — keep all the crazy, legal stuff to my agent and lawyers and me relax and focus on running,” Berian said. “I was definitely annoyed every single day, just kept training.”
Now, he’s a clear favorite to earn an Olympic spot at the Rio Games, especially after an opening round of the 800 in which NCAA champion Donavan Brazier and 2012 Olympian Duane Solomon failed to qualify. Another favorite, Nick Symmonds, withdrew the day before because of a torn ligament and stress fracture in his left ankle.
“I have some great competition out here. Can’t let off too much,” Berian said. “Got to keep pushing it. Can’t underestimate anyone out here.”
Berian is a bit of a cult hero to some of his competitors for standing up to Nike. Several have praised him for not backing down under the pressure.
“They give me a lot of good support,” Berian said. “We’re like a family. Even though we’re enemies on the track, we’re all good friends.”
His new shoes arrived two days ago. He’s still breaking them in.
“It was a good present,” Berian said. “It made me happy.”