Trayvon Bromell has never heard of Zharnel Hughes, but they combined to put track and field on notice over two days and two countries last week.
The Baylor freshman Bromell ran a 100m heat in 10.02 seconds in Austin, Texas, with a legal wind of +.9 meters per second (+2.0 is the maximum legal wind reading) on Friday.
Hughes, from the Caribbean island of Anguilla, won the 100m final at the prestigious Jamaican Boys and Girls Championships in 10.12 seconds later Friday night (+1.3 wind). He erased Olympic 100m silver medalist Yohan Blake‘s meet record of 10.21. (video here)
Bromell, who is three days older than Hughes, returned for his final at the Texas Relays on Saturday. He ran 10.01 seconds (+1.5 wind), equaling the world junior 100m record despite a minor stumble out of the blocks. (video here)
Bromell and Hughes are both 18, and they are one-two in the (very early) season world rankings for the 100m. A sub-10-second 100m is considered elite, and they are approaching the barrier several years before sprinters usually hit their primes.
The top-end global sprint scene has gone largely unchanged the last five years. Usain Bolt wins just about everything, and Blake and Americans Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin have been his closest chasers.
Bolt is 27. It was revealed he’s been dealing with a foot injury hours before Bromell’s first race Friday, and he might not race until June. It’s hard to believe the injury will cost Bolt too much, but it’s a reminder that time eventually catches up to all sprinters. Bolt has talked about possibly retiring after the 2016 Olympics.
Gay and Gatlin are 31 and 32, aging for 100m sprinters. Blake is 24 and, though he’s coming off an injury-plagued 2013, may not have peaked yet.
The next several years, perhaps the next two before the Rio Olympics, will offer increasing space for new blood in the most prestigious track and field event to the U.S. audience.
So, will we one day look back at Bromell and Hughes dusting their personal bests on the same weekend as significant? Are they the future of sprinting?
“I am very wary of young sprint prodigies,” NBC Olympics track and field analyst Ato Boldon said. “Many of them don’t pan out.”
At first glance, Bromell and Hughes are very different. Bromell is 5-foot-9 and runs with a headband. Hughes is 6-foot-3, two inches shorter than Bolt, to whom he has drawn many comparisons.
Bromell’s success is startling given his track record of injuries. He broke his left knee in eighth grade doing backflips, broke his right knee and forearm in ninth grade playing basketball and in 10th grade cracked a hip during a race.
“I was pretty much out like three years,” Bromell said.
Bromell was a slot receiver at (St. Petersburg, Fla.) Gibbs High School and said he drew interest from schools such as West Virginia. But he gave up football his senior year to focus on sprinting.
He won the Class 3A state 100m title. In another meet, he became the first U.S. high school sprinter to run the 100m in under 10 seconds, though the wind was over the legal limit.
Bromell was named the Gatorade National Track Athlete of the Year and was one of six finalists for the Gatorade Male Athlete of the Year, won by basketball player Andrew Wiggins.
Bromell chose Baylor, a school known for its 400m tradition, because of its loyalty to him during recruitment. Coaches call him a “track rat” who studies film and asks what he could have done better in the immediate aftermath of winning races.
Clyde Hart is in his 51st year at Baylor. His pupils included Olympic champions Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner. The 2004 Olympic 400m champion Wariner is still active and has been a bit of a mentor toward Bromell.
Hart has seen all of Bromell’s collegiate races and compared him to Harvey Glance, who was 5-foot-8, 148 pounds and fourth in the 1976 Olympic 100m.
“I don’t really like to put a kid in a box and say we expect this or that,” Hart said. “I think he’s going to get better. He’s going to get a lot stronger. In my opinion most sprinters don’t get their prime until 24, 25 years old. He’s only 18. He’s just a fast kid. You can see it. His mechanics are good.”
Bromell went into last weekend’s Texas Relays expecting fast times at a meet known for high winds.
“I wanted to shock the world,” said Bromell, who owns more than 50 pairs of shoes. “Push the limit and go under 10 [seconds].”
The heat time of 10.02 stunned his coaches. They said it was more impressive than his 10.01 the next day. They came to Austin hoping for something in the 10.1-10.2 range to better his personal best of 10.27.
Baylor assistant coach Michael Ford, who recruited Bromell, said the freshman can improve mechanically, citing not only his small stumble in the final but also taking steps to the side out of the blocks and not running hard through the finish in Texas. He could have run a legal 9.9.
“He’s humble, but he’s cocky at the same time,” Ford said. “He knows his ability. He’s always willing to learn.”
About 1,500 miles from Austin, the Anguillan Hughes became the star of the revered Jamaican Boys and Girls Championships last weekend, commonly referred to as “Champs.”
Hughes’ 10.12 in the 100m final Friday may not have been as fast as Bromell, but was arguably more impressive given the increased pressure of the meet.
Hughes trains in Jamaica under the same coach as Bolt, but he was born and raised in Anguilla, a British overseas territory in the Lesser Antilles that’s 16 miles long and 3 miles wide. Anguilla does not have its own Olympic Committee, so Hughes would have to compete for Great Britain at an Olympics, if he continues to progress.
The Telegraph points out that Hughes’ mother is Jamaican, so he could apply for citizenship and represent Jamaica at an Olympics.
“It is something I always think about,” Hughes told the BBC. “I think that [competing for Great Britain] would be the best choice.
“It is something I need to think about before I jump to conclusions and something I have to talk to my coaches about.
“It would be a great experience to represent Great Britain at an Olympics, at the same time representing Anguilla.”
It’s not a decision Hughes would have to make any time soon. He can represent Anguilla at this summer’s Commonwealth Games and the World Junior Championships.
Bromell is also targeting the World Junior Championships in Eugene, Ore., in late July, where the American and Anguillan could finally become familiar with each other.
Caution is key, though.
“For every Sanya [Richards], Bolt and Allyson Felix, there are 1,000 you don’t see,” Boldon said. “The onus now is on the coaches to not have them become a statistic.”
Boldon would know. His Trinidad and Tobago countryman, Darrel Brown, first set the world junior 100m record that Bromell matched on Saturday. Brown held just about every age-group record from 13 to 18, and ran his 10.01 at the 2003 World Championships, where he won a silver medal at age 18.
Brown is now 29 but without the senior success of Bolt, Blake, Gay or Gatlin. His personal best is 9.99, set when he was 20, and he was eliminated in the quarterfinals at Beijing 2008 in his only Olympic 100m appearance.
“I’m not so sure tha these kids are going to follow in those sort of footsteps, but the reality is that being fast at a young age is fine, but it’s not an automatic guarantee of success at the next level,” Boldon said.
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