The 10-second barrier: Browning’s back for another crack

The biggest race of Rohan Browning’s life was over almost as soon as it began. Within a few steps, he had cost himself a chance of victory in his Olympic semi-final in Tokyo last year.

Of course, whatever he did in that race were a bonus, as just getting to a semi-final after winning your heat in your first Olympics is an extraordinary effort. The fact that he also ran a personal best 10.01 seconds in that heat was an amazing accomplishment.

Rohan Browning wins his heat in Tokyo. Credit:Getty Images

But he knew as soon as he started that semi-final that he had given up too much ground. He ran beautifully to finish just short of qualifying for the final. His start had cost him. Again.

For the last year, he and his coach Andrew Murphy have broken him down to build him up again. They have retrained his body in how to explode out of the blocks and start his races.

“One of the things post-Tokyo that my coach and I honed in on was my start and my first 10-20 metres where we realised that was an area that was not world-class and was letting me down,” Browning said this week from the Australian training camp in Seattle, USA, before the world championships commence in Eugene, Oregon, on Saturday morning (AEST).

“I was losing races in the first 10 or 20 metres, so we focused on being a lot more consistent technically. We tried to break down some old motor patterns and overlay some new more efficient ones.

Australia’s Rohan Browning (left) leads the field in his heat of the men’s 100m in Tokyo.Credit:AP

“It was a bit of a process of taking a step back to take two steps forwards in the long term. It’s been something that has taken a while to get used to, to try to shorten that first stride a little bit so that I contact the ground under my hip rather than putting braking forces into the ground. So, it’s been a bit of brain training in a way.

“There was a teething process on the circuit in Europe [in recent months, competing in Diamond League meetings ahead of the worlds] to put it into play because it is different doing it in competition under heat than in training.

Rohan Browning wins his heat of the men’s 100 in Tokyo.Credit:Getty Images

“I am confident with where it is at now. I think I am just starting to understand how to really put a good race together and obviously the season is so geared towards the two majors – the Commonwealth Games and the world champs – so I am looking forward to the opportunity.”

In Tokyo, Browning stood at the blocks and looked around not so much in awe or any sense of intimidation, so much as quiet reverence at the men in the lanes next to him.

They were the fastest men in the world. He was just the fastest man in Australia. It was hard to look at them and not have numbers flash up in his mind. Yohan Blake. World champion. 9.69s.

He then ran faster than he has ever run, gusted along by competition, and beat Blake to the line in 10.01 to sprint straight into the Olympic semi.

This year he wants to go at least one stage better: make the final, and then who knows what happens. He wants another personal best at the majors. Of course, if he gets a new PB that probably means he breaks 10 seconds and becomes only the second Australian after Patrick Johnson to hit single figures.

Every story written about Browning since he emerged has speculated on him breaking 10. Every interview he has done he has been asked about it. The questions are as obligatory for the interviewer as the answers are self-evident for Browning.

Hitting a PB, as he did in Tokyo also against the world’s best and with the world watching, would be the satisfaction of seeing his career staying on its trajectory that began almost by accident as a teenager. The consequence of hitting a new PB would also be that it would mean hitting that tantalising nine-point-something.

“Hayward Field [the track in Eugene] is a famously fast track so lets hope for that,” Browning said.

“I am under no illusions that you run 10.0 one day and you just run 9.8 the next. Sometimes you can because you just get the 2.0 tailwind at high altitude or whatever and the stars all align, but really it’s about performing in the big races and the major championships.

“I think this year the global standard is really strong, so I think I will need to be in that kind of shape to be in the mix.

“A personal best at a major championships shows you are doing the right things. It’s all about the direction. I am just trying to think each year not to be impatient and to want it all now, but ultimately, it’s about your career heading in the right direction and being patient in that process. Especially in this event which takes a long time to mature into it.”

In the lead-in to Eugene, and the Commonwealth Games beyond it, Browning also went to Italy to train for a period at the same place as Olympic gold medallist Lamont Marcell-Jacobs.

“We were hoping to do a couple of training sessions with him, but he got injured so we were on a different training timeline so we haven’t really done anything together. I have met him and said hi and things, but we didn’t train together or anything like that which is unfortunate,” Browning said.

“Had things worked out differently we would have, but you can’t do much about injury.”

He is now on terms with the world’s best. His semi-final run in Tokyo gives him the nod of recognition, respect and approval that he is in their class.

Lamont Jacobs gets in front to win gold in the men’s 100m in Tokyo. Credit:LaPresse

“There’s a lot to be said for experience and just travelling and getting accustomed to racing the best guys and being less impressed by them, not that you don’t respect them as athletes, but it is that shift in mentality from being impressed with the guys you are competing against and then seeing yourself as a challenger and seeing yourself as being in the mix. I think it just comes down to experience,” he said.

“It’s strong this year, I actually think it is stronger than leading into Tokyo because there’s been more competitions, more opportunities for competition.

“Undoubtedly, Fred Kerley is the favourite on recent form. Globally it’s strong. The Kenyan guy is doing well, of course Marcell-Jacobs the Olympic champ, and there’s always a long list of Americans who will always be in the mix. Yohan Blake just ran 9.85s at the Jamaican trial, so he is back in that top form.

“The depth is so strong it really is about getting through each round and then if you get to a final and you are top eight in the world that is the business end, but you have to get there first.

“There have been a lot of good guys who have been favourites who have not made it through the rounds.

“It’s all a bit of a mug’s game until you run head-to-head at a major championships right?”

WORLD ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIPS

Eugene, Oregon, July 16-25

The world championships begin Saturday (Friday in the US). Australia is 17 hours ahead, so the morning sessions run from about 2am-6.30am (AEST), while the evening sessions, when most finals are held, will be in the middle of the day.

HOW TO WATCH: Both sessions can be viewed on the World Athletics YouTube channel. Evening sessions and highlights will be on SBS On Demand.

KEY MOMENTS: The men’s 100m final will be Sunday 12.50pm (AEST). Wednesday is a big day for Australians with medal chances in the high jump, 1500m and the discus.

AUSTRALIANS TO WATCH
Rohan Browning: Currently Australia’s fastest man, Browning made the 100m semi-finals at the Tokyo Olympics in 10.01s. The heats start 11.50am Saturday.

Nicola Olyslagers (née McDermott), Eleanor Patterson: Olyslagers was the high jump silver medallist in Tokyo, while Patterson won Commonwealth Games gold in the event in Glasgow. Wednesday from 10.40am.

Nicola Olyslagers in the Olympic high jump event, where she won silver.Credit:AP

Stewart McSweyn, Oli Hoare, Matthew Ramsden: Australia’s 1500m team is very strong. Wednesday 12.30pm.

Matt Denny: Has had a breakout season in the discus and is a dark horse in the field. Wednesday from 11.30am.

Kelsey-Lee Barber: the former world javelin champion from Doha in 2019, who won bronze in Tokyo last year. Javelin will be held on July 23 from 11.20am.

Peter Bol, Joe Deng: Bol ran a gutsy fourth in the final in Tokyo, missing bronze by 0.53s, and was quicker in his heat than the gold medallist in the final. He and training partner Deng have traded national records. July 24, 11.10am.

Australian middle-distance runner Peter Bol.Credit:Getty Images

Ash Moloney, Cedric Dubler: The athletes from the moment of the Tokyo Olympics when Moloney raced to hang on for bronze in the decathlon. The decathlon starts July 24 at 2.50am with the 100m, and ends at 12.20pm on July 25 with the 1500m.

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