After Rio dreams fell short, ‘The Freeze’ working to qualify for 2020 Olympics

The Freeze races a fan in between innings during a game between the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets at SunTrust Park on June 10, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
The Freeze races a fan in between innings during a game between the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets at SunTrust Park on June 10, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Credit: Daniel Shirey

Credit: Daniel Shirey

By now, everyone should know who Nigel Talton is, and if you don’t recognize his name, you’ve seen his work.

With a large pair of ski goggles, an aqua-blue body suit and supernatural speed, Talton or his persona — “The Freeze” — has become a national sensation.

The Braves’ newest between-inning promotion “Beat the Freeze” — sponsored by Race Trac — stars Talton as “The Freeze.” Dressed in his costume, “The Freeze” allows a cocky fan a five-second head start to race from one end of SunTrust Park’s outfield warning track to the other. Somehow, "The Freeze” erases the gap and humiliates his opponent.

Talton, who has worked on the Braves’ grounds crew since 2012, has raced in seven of this season’s 28 “Beat the Freeze” races, but two of his recent races went viral.

Although he was on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and almost every sports account on social media, the 26-year-old Kennesaw State student wasn’t immediately aware he was receiving just as much chatter as Yankees’ rookie Aaron Judge was this week.

The first time the man behind the mask saw how popular “The Freeze” promotion was becoming was after his race last weekend when his opponent gloated and then tripped, realizing Talton was on his heels. Talton was eating at a restaurant, glanced up at a TV and saw the video of himself running against the fan at SunTrust Park.

"I was like, I didn't say it out loud, but 'That's me,’” Talton said. “My friends, they were sending pictures saying, 'You're on ESPN. You're a superstar,' and I'm like, 'No, I'm on the grounds crew.'"

When Talton was asked if he thought "The Freeze” would go viral the way it did, he laughed.

“I didn't know it would start that big,” Talton said, “It's entertaining. I love the entertainment for the fans and I'm just having fun because I love to run. Me running and giving the fans another things to cheer about, it's just real fun. I love it."

It’s pretty easy to figure out why the Braves noticed Talton, a former track and field athlete at Iowa Wesleyan University and Shorter College, and why they asked him to be “The Freeze.”

At Shorter, Talton was on the national-championship 4x100 team in 2012.

Talton’s speed was first noticed by the Braves when he sprinted on the grass at Turner Field performing his grounds-crew duties. Talton eventually was asked to participate in the Braves’ stolen-base challenge last season. Anyone who’s attended a Braves’ game is familiar with this between-innings promotion. Fans are given 20 seconds to run to a base placed behind second, pick it up and run back to left field. Many have tried and most have failed.

Talton did it in less than 16 seconds.

Soon after, Braves personnel approached him about this new idea for a new baseball park — "Beat the Freeze."

Talton was excited about the offer and looked forward to giving fans something to cheer about and running again after his college eligibility ended.

Since before he ran track and played football at Peach County High School, competing has been part of Talton’s life. Even though he’s finished with collegiate track, Talton is still chasing his dream of running professionally.

Expected to graduate from Kennesaw State in December with a degree in sports management, Talton’s goal after graduation is to qualify for the 2018 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Birmingham, England, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

So what’s standing in the way of Talton’s dream?

Clocking the right time, for sure. But more important, attracting a sponsor which has proved difficult.

Before Talton’s World Indoor and Tokyo goals, his sight was set on Rio in 2016.

"I was having ups and downs with getting to meets because it's hard for an athlete that's not sponsored,” Talton said. “You have to pay for everything and I just didn't have that much money saved up so I was on the verge of the Olympic trials, but I didn't quality or anything and it was stressful."

Gaining national attention at Braves’ games, Talton’s too modest to say he hopes to attract a sponsor from the “Beat the Freeze” promotion. Rather, he hopes to continue making fans laugh and doing what he loves.

"(I just want) to have fun continuing to run and continuing to be ‘The Freeze’ until who knows what happens,” Talton said. “I'm just taking it day by day."

Talton’s next "Beat the Freeze" race is scheduled for Saturday afternoon when the Braves take on the Miami Marlins at SunTrust Park. The game is scheduled to begin at 4:10 p.m.

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