Boris Berian Turns Job at Fast-Food Counter Into Super-Sized Success

Boris Berian wore red and yellow during a day shift at McDonald's to pursue his red, white and blue Olympic dreams

A day shift at the golden arches turned into a shot at Olympic gold for Boris Berian, a Southern California runner who became known along the way as a symbol of athletes' rights after standing up to a shoe company.

Berian finished a strong second with a time of 1:44.56 in Monday's 800m semifinal before placing eighth in the final (1:46.15), but just making it to Rio was a win for the 23-year-old runner from Southern California. His road to Rio symbolized the grit and dedication required of athletes determined to compete with the world's best, no matter what hurdles they face.

It's an accomplishment that seemed improbable for Berian just two years ago and unlikely earlier this year after a legal dispute with Nike over shoes.

His sights were far from Brazil about two years ago when Berian lost his eligibility due to poor grades at Adams State in Colorado. He crashed on a friend's couch and got a job at McDonald's to finance his training.

"I had to go get drinks, had to make the fries," Berian said.

He would ride his bike or walk the nearly three miles to work the early shift. That gave him time to train in the evening.

Training on his own only took him so far. In November 2014, Berian was invited to join the Big Bear Track Club, a haven for Southern California runners looking to train at altitude.


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"I'd been out of the running scene for a while, so I was like, 'Somebody wants to coach me?'" said Berian.

That somebody was Carlos Handler, husband of Olympian Brenda Martinez.

"I knew, somebody with his kind of talent, all you have to do is give them an environment where he can succeed," said Handler.

Commitment to a speed and endurance training program put Berian back on the Team USA map. He won the world indoor championship in the 800m in March with a personal best of 1:43.34.

But then came the legal hurdle with Nike.

Last year, he was briefly sponsored by Nike as part of contract that expired at the end of 2015. He began wearing New Balance track shoes, which set off the legal dispute.

Nike claimed it matched New Balance's offer, but Berian was not happy with the terms. If he failed to meet standard of performance, Nike could reduce payments.

Nike sued and a court order prevented him from competing in non-Nike gear. The clash led to a "Free Boris" crowd-funding campaign to pay for the legal fight, and Nike eventually dropped the lawsuit.

"I was so excited, I was about to go for another six-mile run," Berian said.

Berian signed a new deal with New Balance and placed second in 1:44.92, good enough to qualify for Rio.

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