Ultra-runner Robbie Britton hits out at Nike: 'If I get on the podium I'm covering up the swoosh'

British runner takes on the 24-hour challenge starting on Saturday

Robbie Britton is aptly named. There are few athletes prouder to represent Great Britain. The ultra-runner says the chance to represent GB colours is “awesome” and as if to underline this, he is taking a nine-foot by six-foot union flag with him to Turin, where on Saturday he is tackling the world 24-hour championships.

But thanks to Justin Gatlin, the vest does not sit comfortably on the 28-year-old's back. The 12-person British squad's kit is sponsored by Nike – the same company that handed two-time drug cheat sprinter Gatlin a massive endorsement deal last month.

Britton is so incensed by the global giant's move that if he gets on the podium  – and there is a good chance he will – he will cover up the distinctive swoosh, regardless of the implications it may have in the future for him and the GB team.

“I did ask whether I could duct tape the Nike swoosh while I am in the race,” Britton said. “It didn't go down well with British Athletics. [But] if I get on that podium I am covering it up.”

Britton, who is one of five British men running on Saturday, acknowledges that his podium protest is highly unlikely to cause global repercussions on the scale of the Black Power salute by US runners in the 1968 Olympics, but he is adamant that a message needs to go out.

Justin-Gatlin.jpg
Controversial sprinter Gatlin was recently handed a Nike sponsorship

“It is not just because they are sponsoring someone who is a drug cheat, it is that he is unrepentant,” Britton added. “He is totally unrepentant, which I hate. What sort of message is that sending out to the public? It is damaging to the sport.”

Britton is hoping to smash his personal best of 239km for a 24-hour race on the two-kilometre circuit in Turin and cover up to 260km. His main rivals, such as Japan's Yoshikazu Hara, have covered in excess of 280km, but Britton says the fact that Turin's course is not fast – with a crucial 17 feet of elevation on each lap – will play into the Briton's hands.

And while he knows that running around a course that consists of a 400m track and a brief out-and-back detour into an adjacent park will be at times mind-numbing and painful, he is keen to accentuate the positives.

Britton is a veteran of 100-mile trail races and he said of today's championships: “There will be lows, but in a 24-hour race, no matter what you do, whether you're sprinting full pelt or curled in a ball crying, you're not going to finish any quicker or slower. 

“What I look forward to is that nothing else matters except running for the whole day. Anything I am worried about, like bills or anything, is gone. It is just one lap at a time.

“I know that I am never far away from food or a toilet – I was in another race on a 400-metre track and I kept telling myself that at the most I am 200 metres from my friends and a massive pile of food. Plus there is no chance of me getting lost.”

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