Nick Symmonds didn’t want to be told what to wear to the world championships. Whatever he wears during the event, he’ll wear it at home.
Symmonds, a Bishop Kelly High graduate and America’s national champion and the defending world runner-up at 800 meters, was left off the roster USA Track and Field submitted for worlds, which start Aug. 22 in Beijing, according to multiple media outlets. Symmonds refused to sign a contract USA Track and Field requires all athletes to sign by Sunday to be officially named to the team.
“I just received word from @usatf that I have been left off the #Beijing2015 team. Proud to have stood my ground and fought another battle for athletes’ rights. A huge thank you to the media and fans for all your support,” Symmonds tweeted on his personal account, @NickSymmonds, at about 9 p.m. MT Sunday. “Tomorrow I will present proof that @usatf is stealing millions of dollars from the athletes, getting rich off the hard work of #TeamUSA.”
The issue is Nike’s standing as USATF’s official uniform sponsor. Anyone going to China on the U.S. team is required to wear Nike gear at all team functions. Symmonds is sponsored by a rival shoe company, Brooks, and wants it clearly spelled out what constitutes a team function.
Symmonds, 31, expected to sit out, and he threatened litigation as the deadline approached.
“I don’t think USATF is bluffing. I think they’re dumb enough to leave me home,” he told The Associated Press on Sunday night. “If I’m not on the team, I’m going to sit down and have a chat with my lawyer.”
His absence likely will cost the United States in the medal table, but could also cost him prize money. That’s a fight worth fighting, he said.
Symmonds is known for speaking his mind on social and business issues that surround what he believes is a widely corrupt world of track and field. He couldn’t hold his tongue on this topic, believing that giving Nike so much power on what athletes can and can’t wear at events such as worlds and the Olympics may hinder sponsorship deals down the road.
“You just can’t give a monopoly to a company and expect there to be a healthy, viable sport. It’s never going to change unless someone makes a stand. It’s unfortunate that’s going to have to be me,” Symmonds said. “ ... But it’s time to wrestle some of our power back from USATF, because they’ve taken a lot of it.”
In a statement, USATF said the organization “respect(s) Nick and whatever decision he makes,” but the language of the contract is the language.
“It is the industry standard across all sports that there are certain requirements for when a team uniform and apparel must be worn,” the statement said. “Those specifications may vary from sport to sport, but all sports and teams have them.
“We all make our best efforts to balance athletes’ personal interests with those of the sport, federation and team. Often times those interests are aligned, and sometimes they conflict.”
Symmonds was a Nike-sponsored athlete for around seven years before switching over to Brooks on Jan. 1, 2014, because, “I needed a company that could work with me and match my personality a little bit better and Brooks’ run-happy culture is what I needed to take my running to the next level,” he explained.
He won the 800 at the national championships in June, finishing in a time of 1 minute, 44.53 seconds. Symmonds elected to skip lucrative competitions in Europe to focus on training at home, just to be in tiptop shape for Beijing. He feels like he’s in peak condition, maybe even better than when he captured silver at the 2013 world championships in Moscow.
“Now I don’t even get to realize this fitness, which is terrible,” he said. “My hands are tied right now. If I’m on the team, I’ve got my visa, my passport and my bags are packed. I’m good to go.
“If I’m not on the team, I’m going to sit down and have a chat with my lawyer.”
He’s hoping to keep this out of the courtroom, though. He wants to work with USATF CEO Max Siegel and come to some sort of amicable agreement. But time is running short.
“I’ve invested a lot of time, money and energy into preparing for Beijing,” Symmonds said. “If all that sacrifice doesn’t get to be realized and I don’t get to go out and race and do what I do best, which is run for my country, I feel like some real damage has been done.”