For the last 13 years, the Olympic men’s 100-meter title has been held by one man: Jamaica’s Usain Bolt. But that will change in Tokyo, with Bolt retired. And the frontrunner to claim the title is an American.
Two years ago, Trayvon Bromell, who holds the fastest time in the world this year, looked far from Olympic form. He was battling an Achilles injury that some thought he may never fully recover from. In many ways, that has been half of the story of his track career. But as Bromell is quick to say, God’s provision makes up the other half, guiding him back to the top, not once, but four times, after great setbacks.
The St. Petersburg, Florida, native ran his first race at the age of 6, having been hand-selected for a youth team in the area after beating the neighborhood kids in a footrace. And he never looked back.
“Track got me because of the fact of seeing people running fast with times that nobody had ever seen before,” Bromell said in a 2017 feature done by Flotrack.
Adversity was not something Bromell lacked in his early years, growing up in a rough area, with his mom working 12-hour days. The track always seemed to be his solace. But then injuries got in his way.
He broke his left knee doing a front flip in eighth grade, his right knee playing AAU basketball in ninth, and in 10th grade he saw his high school track dreams shatter, as he broke his hip.
“To this day, we don’t know how it happened, but I was running the 100 meters at our first track meet of the season,” Bromell told Flotrack. “I’m driving, I’m driving, I come up out of my drive phase. I started to lift and next thing you know, I go from lane five to the grass. I tried to stand up and walk, it didn’t happen.”
While his sprinting counterparts across the country posted record-breaking times, he had to sit and watch. And go to garage sales, building “contraptions” to help speed along his recovery.
“My mom and I didn’t have the finances to do physical therapy,” Bromell told Flotrack. “We went to physical therapy one day and we were like, ‘We can’t, we can’t afford it.’ My mom said, ‘I’m not going to give up on you.’”
It was his mother’s motivation that kept Bromell going, even as he looked at a long road to recovery.
“It’s crazy when I tell this story. As soon as I got back from the hospital, we were on the stationary bike, that whole night. She was like, ‘We got to keep going, we got to get this leg right.’ Growing up in the neighborhood that I was in, I wasn’t the person that I am now. When these injuries happened, I was like, ‘I’m never going to walk again, run again. I just want to give up.’ My mom wouldn’t let that happen. We were at the park every day. We had parachutes, we found some way to make something. If that meant going to yard sales and building contraptions of crazy things to help my leg get its strength back, we did,” Bromell said.
It took three years, but he finally got his chance to run at the high school level as a senior, and did not disappoint. He crossed the line in a time of 9.99 seconds (wind-aided) at the Great Southwest Classic in 2013.
“Those injuries took three years of running out of my life,” Bromell said. “There’s not too many people in the history of track and field who can say they went three years without running and made it. God showed me that I have to have patience, I have to have humility.”
In many ways, it was those injuries that happened prior to Bromell becoming a fixture in the world of U.S. track and field that shaped him for success now in Tokyo.
“I was like, ‘I really took a toll on this whole track thing (not running for three years)’, but it built a soldier in me. My work ethic went to a whole ‘nother level. It took a lot from me, mind-wise, but I turned into a better person,” he said.
He carried that work ethic through a successful two-year career at Baylor, which featured two individual NCAA titles (2014 100m outdoor, 2015 200m indoor), before turning pro. He set his sights on the 2016 Olympic Games, with the goal to take back the coveted 100-meter title for the Americans.
But as with so many things in his track career, his first year as a pro did not go to plan. A grade-one Achilles tendon sprain cut short his Diamond League schedule, as he worked to recover for the U.S. Olympic Trials. He did indeed return to health in time, and qualified in the 100m and 4×100-meter relay. After an eighth-place finish in the Rio Olympic 100m final, Bromell sprinted at anchor for the Americans in the relay, but tore his Achilles as he dove across the finish line.
He briefly returned in 2017, focused on the world championships, which was set to be Bolt’s final race. However, Bromell never made it to London. He ran just one race at the U.S. Championships, at which he failed to reach the semifinals and stopped his training in order to fully recover.
The recovery took longer than expected, but Bromell emerged with a stronger faith, and a will to win. When he stepped onto the track in July last summer, he crossed the line in 10.04 seconds. And most importantly, there was no pain.
“We made some steps to be able to be an athlete and not a rehab project,” Rana Reider, who coaches Bromell on the Tumbleweed Track Club, told NBC Sports of Bromell’s rehab. “I think he can run faster than he’s ever run.”
Bromell will aim to do just that in Tokyo, having run a world-leading time of 9.77 seconds on June 5. He is one of the U.S.’s greatest hopes for gold on the track, but he is running for far more than a gold medal.
Through the injuries and recovery, Bromell has noted that he’s turned to his faith in Christ more and more.
“This isn’t about athletics. It’s a greater stage, a greater calling that God called us for,” Bromell said in an Instagram post on February 16. “This is about the building blocks of Faith. His presence is before us. Isaiah 40:29 says that He gives power to the weak. Let me tell you, whatever you’re going through, God walks beside you. Whatever pain you feel, the tears will be blown away. Because His power is made perfect in weakness. Don’t grow weary. The power lives within you.”
Following his victory in the 100m at the U.S. Olympic Trials on June 22, Bromell referenced his faith time and time again in his post-race press conference.
“It’s a blessing,” Bromell said. “Like I’ve been telling people all year, it’s God’s work. I don’t know how much more I have to tell people that for them to understand and believe. I have so much faith. I know His plan is what it’s going to be at the end of the day.”
In Tokyo, Bromell is set to run in the first round of the 100m on Friday, the semifinals heats on Saturday, and the final will be Sunday at 8:50 a.m. ET, streamed live on NBCOlympics.com. Bromell will also compete in the men’s 4x100m relay, which begins with the first round Aug. 5 and the final Aug. 6.