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Running for Fun

The Men’s 100 metres in Rio is one eagerly awaited race. The 2015 World Championship Final set the scene beautifully. That race was portrayed as good versus evil with many feeling it essential that Usain Bolt defeated drugs cheat Justin Gatlin, to preserve the honour of the sport. While all this was going on it was easy to miss the young runner coming through to take the bronze medal.

Trayvon Bromell, just a month past his 20th birthday, finished third in 9.92. He admits to have been as surprised as the rest of us! “Going into the race I just wanted to do my best. Just being on that stage was a blessing, as was making the US team. Getting a medal in the Worlds was something I didn’t see coming. I really did not see myself in third place. In the race I saw Bolt and Gatlin pass me and I was, ‘man I’m in fifth place’ and then I got to the line and looked across the lanes and I seemed to be third and I was shocked. I was real happy, something I’ll never forget.” He added: “I think, had I known where I was, I would have come up with a better time.”

He insists that winning a World Championship medal at such a young age has not changed him: “I’m still the same person. I work hard in everything I do. I go out with the passion and run the race I love doing. I love the sport. I love the speed. I’m having fun and that’s all I think about.”

Growing up he played a lot of sport, principally [American] football and some basketball. As he told me: “My family has a strong background in football. Not professional but every guy in my family played football so I grew up loving the sport” but he picked up so many injuries that eventually he decided that football was not his sport, so he “gave track a go”. As a high-school athlete he recorded a 9.99 at Gibbs High School in St Petersburg, Florida but with wind assistance of 4.0mps, double the allowable wind reading. In 2013 he took bronze in the Pan Am Juniors and a year later, silver in the World Juniors.

His mother was an influence in the decision to switch to running, but in a negative as well as positive way. “My mom had run track. She used to take me to park runs. She did have an influence on me because I could see how much she enjoyed running. She used to run ten miles a day but I would say ‘I am not a distance runner. If I can’t be a sprinter, I’m not running.’”

Part of the reason for his surprise at his performance in Beijing was that 2015 had not totally gone to plan. “2015 was a year of ups and downs. I didn’t get the NCAA title that I wanted but it was a great race, running against a good friend” (USC’s Andre De Grasse won in 9.75). Bromell did however set a new PB (9.88). At the US trials in June 2015, he came second in 9.96 (9.84 in a heat) and made the team for Beijing. His own assessment of the trials was: “I came second against a lot of good competitors so that was pretty good.”

He does not feel that there is any secret to his progress and rapid rise in 2015. “My rise came from my drive, my hard work and motivation. I have a long history of being beat up with injuries and things, so to overcome those things is a blessing. What happened has been a shock for me as I did not see it coming. My mom was a big influence. You learn from what you see your parents do and I saw my mom work hard so it made me do the same.”

As he looks ahead to Rio, he does it with a modest and sensible attitude. Knowing that it won’t be easy to make the US team his aim is “just staying focused and keeping hungry for what I want. Run fast – that’s the only thing you can do – and perform to the best of your ability. My hope is just to be better than I was last year. That’s what I pray for every day, just improvement and development in my craft, and hopefully to put in a great performance and make the US team, get to Rio, and hopefully get on the podium. I just have to stick to my training and trust my coach and trust God and keep moving forward and stay healthy and get through the rounds”.

Becoming a Christian as a teenager was a life-changing experience for Bromell: “When I was younger I didn’t really go to church. I was trying to find myself but it came upon me that you can’t really find yourself unless you find God. I feel that everything we do, the land we stand on and the people that we are is all because of him. Once you realise that, everything comes into sight. Everything changed. I really did not find God until my teens and it was because I was lost. I really did not know what I was doing, who I was and what [was] my purpose. One night I heard a voice. I didn’t know what it meant but I started changing my life around. I started taking school more seriously and doing things in the community. I tried to be a better person. I just knew it was him telling me that it was time to make a change in life.

“You can talk to people but at the end of the day, God has ultimate control. I can’t go to someone expecting them to change my life for me. That is not how it works. God has given us everything there is on this earth. If I want to speak to somebody who can change my life, that’s who I’m going to go to.”

Bromell followed up his bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships with gold at the 2016 World Indoors Championship in Portland, Oregon, USA. He ran 6.57 in the heat and 6.53 in the semi-final but with Asafa Powell (Jamaica) running a world-leading time for 2016 (6.44), Bromell was off the pace. In the final he ran 6.47 to take gold from Powell (6.50). He said of the race: “The only way I could get the win [was] if I could get out and use my strength to the best of my ability and just run my race. So that’s pretty much what I did.”

He said that beating Asafa Powell was “mind-blowing because when I was younger I used to always look at Asafa’s start and thought I had to mimic this. Looking up to those guys and being able to run against them is a blessing on its own. A lot of people don’t know that when I was young the doctors told me that I wouldn’t be able to run this fast again, so to be able to come out here and do the things I do, I thank God for giving me the strength. It’s a blessing to be able to run against these guys like in Beijing and here in Portland. It’s hard to even process right now. It’s crazy”.

He is humble enough to seek and take advice: “A couple of days ago [before the World Indoor Championships] I talked to Maurice Greene, former Olympic gold medallist and world record holders in 100 metres, and he was telling me that if you want to run a great 60, then you run your 60 like you run your 100, and you don’t change a thing. You just perfect how you run.” Greene needs to be careful about the advice he gives Bromell if he wants to keep his own world record. Greene is the fastest of all time over 60 metres (6.39 in 1998) but Bromell, running 6.47 in Portland is closing in on the master.

In Portland, Bromell gave us his prototype for the ideal sprinter. You need to “react like Kim Collins, have a start like Asafa Powell, the power like Gatlin and Tyson and a mindset like Usain Bolt”. Sounds simple!

I have met Trayvon Bromell three times. I find him an impressive and engaging young man, who is genuinely surprised and thankful for what he has achieved. He admits to being in awe of the world’s top sprinters but then goes out and beats them! He is fast, humble, thankful and diplomatic – he could go far and quickly.

With that attitude and with age on his side – as Bolt and Gatlin approach the end of their careers – we’re going to see a lot more of Trayvon Bromell.