Rio-bound Berian maintains focus

Sprinter puts aside dispute with Nike

- Paul Myerberg @PaulMyerbe­rg USA TODAY Sports

EUGENE, ORE. For months, Boris Berian’s season was defined mostly by controvers­y, in the form of an often bitter contractua­l dispute with equipment giant Nike that began in early January and extended until the week leading into the U.S. Olympic trials.

Now, after a series of 800-meter times that placed him in elite company nationally and worldwide, Berian stands ready to make headlines at the Rio Games solely for his medal potential.

After clocking the leading times among American sprinters in the first round and semifinals, Berian, 23, finished second in the final, running a 1:44.92 to join U.S. champ Clayton Murphy (1:44.76) and Charles Jock (1.45.48) in representi­ng the USA in the 800 at the Summer Games.

He led nearly throughout the race before Murphy drew ahead in the final 50 meters, giving the University of Akron product a rare double: In addition to Monday’s championsh­ip here, Murphy is the current NCAA champion at 1500.

“It’s overwhelmi­ng,” said Murphy, 21, who just turned pro. “For me to be able to represent Team USA, it’s something I’ve dreamed of since I started running. I just can’t wait to get to Rio.”

Berian’s hamstring tightened during the last 70 meters, he said. But a quick peek at the video board with 110 meters remaining made Berian aware of the room for error — he was several meters ahead at that point and “just wanted to get to the line.”

He had signed a six-month contract with Nike in June 2015, one that elapsed Dec. 31 but included a clause granting the company the right to match any ensuing offer. Berian then signed with New Balance and wore the company’s equipment at meets beginning in January; Nike, which believed it had matched the New Balance contract offer, filed its suit, alleging a breach of contract in May.

With Berian the defining figure, Nike’s suit brought into public focus the inner workings of a track and field contract, which is seen throughout the sport’s profession­al ranks yet rarely dissected on such a public stage.

The controvers­y occurred just as Berian began to prove himself as one of the USA’s strongest runners in the event.

His Olympic berth comes on the heels of a gold medal in the 800 in the World Indoor Championsh­ips in March; asked to name the last time he was disappoint­ed in his performanc­e, Berian named the Drake Relays in late April — an event in which, as Monday, he finished second to Murphy.

“I just focused on training and kept all that legal stuff as far away as possible,” Berian said of the controvers­y. “I’ve got a good team, good friends. I just want to entertain everybody. I just want to race and do my thing.”

A ticket for the Summer Games caps Berian’s remarkable season, which began under controvers­y yet will now be defined by the 800-meter specialist’s growth into a medal contender.

“All of this came so fast,” Berian said. “Yeah, it’s just amazing right now. I have no words. Right now, I’m happy. Now I get to rest and train, and I look forward to being in Rio.”

 ?? JAMES LANG, USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Clayton Murphy, left, and Boris Berian finished 1-2.
JAMES LANG, USA TODAY SPORTS Clayton Murphy, left, and Boris Berian finished 1-2.

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