The 10-second man: Why Rohan Browning could finally bust the barrier
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Budapest: Rohan Browning, Australia’s fastest man, is also a man in a hurry. He believes he is overdue for his next big breakthrough.
For Browning that breakthrough is two-fold: make the 100m final at a major event like the world athletics championships, which start in Budapest on Saturday; or break 10 seconds.
Australia’s Rohan Browning in the semis at the Tokyo Olympics.Credit: Getty Images
In reality the two are almost the same thing. He cannot hope to make the final without breaking 10 seconds. Frustratingly, though, he could become just the second Australian to break 10 seconds and still not make the final. It’s 20 years since Patrick Johnson clocked 9.93 seconds at a meet in Japan, with a wind that was close to the legal limit for record purposes of two metres per second.
While a sub-10 second run won’t guarantee a place in the final, it will define him as a truly world-class sprinter.
Rohan Browning won his 100m heat at the Tokyo OlympicsCredit: Getty
Browning has been ever so close. At the Tokyo Olympics Browning made the semi-final when he won his heat in 10.01s. It was breathtaking.
The semi-final was not so good (10.09) and he left frustrated. Now, two years on, he feels stronger and enters the competition in Budapest with a feeling of expectation rather than hope about his heat.
“I would say I’ve had my best year on average so far,” Browning said.
“I think I am overdue for the big breakthrough run and I’m hoping to time it for world champs. I’ve been cautious about not peaking too early in the season. The improvement in this sport is measured in gradations. But to go to that level of being really competitive, one of those top eight guys and [a] finalist, is a big step.”
That next step is not just physical. It is about working out how to race and how to control the moment. Racing might sound straightforward in the shortest, most uncluttered race: the gun goes and you run as fast as you can to the line. But it’s more than that.
“I think there is a bit of problem-solving and figuring out how to do it physically and compete at that level, [but also] how to compete when there are guys up on you, right on your shoulder pushing you all the way through, [and] how to compete when you’re that small fish in the biggest pond imaginable.”
Rohan Browning at the Commonwealth Games.Credit: Getty Images
Over the past year, Browning has had 11 runs under 10.2 seconds, so he has recalibrated what he expects when he gets on the track.
“I think I have been steadily progressing even though my best run on paper [in the past 12 months] has been the 10.02s at nationals, I think that there is a lot more there on the right day if I really perform well,” he said.
“The metric that my coach and I have been working off for the past few years is the average of your top-five performances. You need to be capable of hitting that at the major championships and that needs to be good enough to progress through the rounds.
“I think this year the average of my top -five performances is 10.09s or 10.10 thereabouts – that is definitely an improvement and something which we have been whittling down every year and that trend is certainly heading in the right direction.”
Browning is now 25 and entering the phase where he is not a hopeful kid running for experience.
“A few years ago I didn’t have the confidence in my body, in my own robustness to be able to back up rounds and I knew I had to run to the absolute, [that] I have to run a PB to just get out of the heats, and I think as the global event becomes increasingly deep and increasingly competitive I feel as if I have been keeping up. Certainly, I think I am going into this championship in the best shape I have ever gone into any championship.”
Since Tokyo, he has used the domestic season to work on his blast out of the blocks and the first 30 metres. Then he went overseas and spent the international season focused on closing out his races in the final 20 metres.
“I feel like now I am in a position where I can really put it all together,” he said.
A bonus in the domestic season was that he got to race against the world’s best, American world champion and Olympic silver medallist Fred Kerley. The experience was invaluable.
“That was just brilliant, the meets this year on the domestic circuit were the best I have seen in my entire career in Australia,” he said.
The focus on times is irresistible and in part necessary – you can’t expect to be among the best in the world unless you are beating the clock to 10 seconds. But equally, times don’t matter once you are racing.
“The field is deep this year, there is no one standout guy – obviously Fred has the title, I’m not sure he has lost in the 100m this year – and Zharnel Hughes from the UK has run 9.83s and has the world lead. [Ferdinand] Omanyala from Kenya ran 9.7s last year I believe.”
Omanyala ran an illegal wind-assisted 9.78 seconds in April this year and a legal 9.84 into a slight headwind in May.
“One of the beautiful things about this sport is it’s a bit of mug’s game until it’s head-to-head. You look at all the results throughout the year, the times and the outliers and whatever but at the end of the day, it is a bit of a mug’s game until it’s head-to-head at a championships.”
It’s time for a breakthrough.
The men’s 100m heats start at 9.30pm Saturday (AEST), followed by the semis and final in the early hours of Monday morning.
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