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Nike Withdraws Contract Lawsuit Against Rising Track Star

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
File photo of Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

In a surprise move, sportswear giant Nike has withdrawn a contract enforcement lawsuit against U.S. track and field star Boris Berian.

In late April, Nike filed suit in federal court in Portland against Berian, the world indoor 800 meter champion. Depositions and exhibits filed in the case since provide a rare and sometimes unflattering view into the business side of professional running.

This started when Berian wanted to change allegiances to another shoe company at the end of his contract with Nike. Then Nike went to court to enforce its right to match any rival contract offer.

In a statement emailed late Thursday, Nike said it voluntarily dropped its lawsuit even though it believed it could prevail. The company said it wanted “to eliminate this distraction” for the athlete on the eve of the U.S. Olympic trials.

On Berian's Twitter account, the middle distance runner reacted by retweeting an animation of Mel Gibson from “Braveheart” captioned "FREEDOOOOM!!!"

Until the contract dispute cropped up, Berian's fast rise from obscurity had the potential to be one of the feel-good storylines at next month's Olympic trials. As recently as last year, Berian was a man without a team who flipped burgers at a Colorado McDonald's to make ends meet. He made a name for himself during the 2015 outdoor season and then captured a gold medal at the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland in March with an 800 meter clocking of 1:45.83.

Berian’s agent portrayed the contract dispute with Nike as a “David vs. Goliath” battle. Berian currently trains with the Big Bear Track Club in Southern California. The 23-year-old is favored to make the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team provided he continues to run well at the upcoming U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene.

Qualifying rounds and the men's 800 meter final take place over the 4th of July weekend.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.