Trayvon Bromell

Trayvon Bromell
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Trayvon Bromell emerged from destruction a new sprinter, new man

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For Trayvon Bromell, July 4 was an independence day. His first race as a rebuilt sprinter, more than four years after he first felt discomfort in his left heel.

It was also much more than that. Bromell, whose training base is Jacksonville, Fla., arrived in Montverde, off Lake Apopka just west of Orlando, for a meet called the Showdown in O-Town.

Exactly four years earlier, Bromell celebrated qualifying for his first Olympics at age 20.

Three years after that, 364 days before the Showdown, Bromell left that Montverde track and had his coach believing he might quit sprinting.

Finally, 10 days before last month’s comeback meet, Bromell learned that the woman who taught him to be a sprinter, from age 4 through high school, had died.

That coach, Garlynn Boyd, was supposed to be in Montverde on July 4 to watch Bromell.

The time came for heat five of the 100m. Bromell leaned into the starting blocks of lane two on a wet track. He felt the weight of the last few years. He sensed his arms shaking.

After at least one false start, Bromell ran. He won the heat in 10.04 seconds.

Bromell’s personal best is 9.84, but that he approached the 10-second barrier, which separates fast sprinters from medal-contending ones, after what he endured the last four years was very promising.

Bromell found his mom, Shri Sanders. She raised him, his two brothers and his sister, by herself in St. Petersburg. She prayed over him after the victory.

He raced again three weeks later. He ran 9.90 seconds, which would have earned bronze at the most recent Olympics and world championships.

Bromell’s speed was back, but in interviews he’s reflected more on a recent personal transformation. Aside from sprinting, Bromell told  Flotrack that he crawled out of “the destruction of my past,” “the downfall of my career” and “a real dark alleyway” in this Olympic cycle.

Bromell declined to discuss specifics last week.

“I’ve got something coming out in the near future that’s going to speak and answer all the questions that people want to know,” he said, noting that it’s mostly related to mental health.

By 2013, the track world began to learn about Bromell, a 5-foot-8 high schooler who sprinted in shorts, not tights, and a headband.

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.

Through all of that, he was coached by Boyd of the Lightning Bolt Track Club. Boyd began teaching Bromell how to be a sprinter before he started elementary school.

“We come from a bad area where poverty is big, and we didn’t really have a lot,” Bromell said of his family. “[My mom] worked all the time to make sure I was good, to make sure we had somewhere to live. When I went to practice, coach G was like another mom, to everyone, to every kid in the city who came in connection with us. She loved us. With my injuries in high school, my mom and coach G were the only people who believed I was special, even in times when I didn’t feel I was special.”

She fought diabetes for years — both of her legs were amputated — but Bromell didn’t know for sure her cause of death. A Tampa Bay Times obituary reported she contracted the coronavirus before she died at age 54.

“I don’t even have the words to explain this pain I’m feeling,” was posted on Bromell’s Instagram the day of her death. “God knows that with everything in me, the world will know the lives you help change!”

In 12th grade, he became the first U.S. high schooler to break 10 seconds over 100m (albeit with too much wind for record purposes). Matthew Boling later broke Bromell’s record by .02.

Bromell, also a slot receiver at Gibbs High, passed on football interest from schools including West Virginia. He took a track scholarship at Baylor, known for producing Olympic 400m champions Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner.

“I don’t really like to put a kid in a box and say we expect this or that,” legendary Baylor coach Clyde Hart said in 2014. “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.”

As a freshman, Bromell won the NCAA 100m title in 9.97 seconds, becoming the first 18-year-old to break 10 seconds with legal wind (and still the only one to do so). As a sophomore, Bromell clocked 9.84, a time faster than anything Carl Lewis ever recorded.

Later that summer, Bromell shared 100m bronze with Canadian Andre De Grasse at the world championships, behind Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin, becoming the second-youngest medalist in that event’s history. He turned professional, signing a contract with New Balance, which he said is still in place today.

In March 2016, Bromell won the world indoor 60m title (Bolt, Gatlin and De Grasse were absent). His coach at Baylor, Mike Ford, still calls it the best Bromell race he’s seen in person. The Olympics were five months away.

In Bromell’s first top-level meet of the spring, he led a 200m in Rome coming off the turn. Then he slowed down considerably and finished seventh.

Three days later, he felt left heel pain while warming up at a Diamond League meet in Birmingham, Great Britain. He withdrew and flew back to Texas.

An X-ray revealed a bone spur growing near his Achilles. The Olympic Trials were in four weeks. They had to modify training and hope to minimize the pain, putting off potential surgery until after Rio.

Bromell made the Olympic team, placing second at Trials to Gatlin in 9.84 seconds. He trained for Rio in a pool and on an anti-gravity treadmill. When he sprinted, it was often on grass and not in spikes.

Ford felt it was a victory that Bromell even qualified for the Olympic final, where he finished last in 10.06 seconds.

“I wasn’t going to run,” Bromell said. “I was telling myself that I was just in too much pain.”

Five nights later, Bromell lined up against Bolt for the anchor leg of the 4x100m relay. He felt no pain.

As Tyson Gay neared with the baton, a dashing Bromell turned his head back for a moment to ensure the handoff. Bolt, in the adjacent lane, opened a slight lead and extended it down the straightaway.

Bromell, in dipping to try to edge Japan’s Asuka Cambridge for silver, stumbled and tumbled on the blue track. As Bolt made the final decelerating pose of his Olympic career, Bromell’s loose orange baton flew in the background.

As Bromell tried to catch himself hitting the ground, the heel pain returned. He couldn’t walk off the track. Officials brought out a wheelchair. Bromell departed believing his anchor secured the bronze medal.

Minutes later, he left a medical room on crutches and was told the team was disqualified. Mike Rodgers and Justin Gatlin exchanged the baton out of the zone.

“I gave everything that I could, almost just throwing myself just to try to get the medal, then it was just like, dang, we got DQed,” Bromell said. “I just couldn’t win in the situation. I got hurt going into the Olympics, then I couldn’t really perform how I wanted to in the 100m and then this. I’m taking an L after L after L right now.”

He underwent the post-Olympic surgery. Bromell was in a boot for two months. He said he did no rehab exercises for six months, per doctor’s instructions. Scar tissue built up. He went 10 months between races and, in his return, was eliminated in the first round at the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships. Bromell didn’t feel right and had the heel re-examined.

I don’t see how you can run 10.2, a new doctor told him. Your tendon should have torn off the bone.

Bromell underwent another surgery and started over again. This time, he went two years between races. On July 6, 2019, Bromell took a misstep about 70 meters into a 100m heat in Montverde and eased up, clocking 10.54 seconds.

Ford feared it was the Achilles, but Bromell taped up the foot and lined up for his final. Halfway through that race, he blew an adductor muscle in his upper leg. Bromell returned to his hotel and spoke with Ford.

“I thought he may quit,” said Ford, who had coached Bromell for nearly four years.

Bromell stayed in Florida to consider his next move. Ford flew back to Texas. They decided a change was best. Bromell spoke with Reider, who developed a knack for helping athletes return from leg injuries.

Christian Taylor, the 2012 Olympic triple jump champion, switched takeoff legs after knee pain and repeated as gold medalist in Rio. De Grasse joined Reider’s group in November 2018 after a pair of season-ending right hamstring injuries. In 2019, the Canadian earned 100m bronze and 200m silver at the world championships.

“[Bromell’s] expectations were just to be like he was before, at some point,” Reider said. “The expectations for me were just to get him to a point where we could see if we could actually train. When we got in, there were some basic functions he couldn’t do.”

Bromell did what Reider called rudimentary strength and conditioning exercises those first months. He began sprinting in earnest in March.

That Independence Day race — the 10.04 — was his first in four years without pain, Reider said. Neither Ford nor Reider was surprised by that time or the 9.90 on July 24.

“We made some steps to be able to be an athlete and not a rehab project,” Reider said. “I think he can run faster than he’s ever run.”

Bromell lives by himself in Jacksonville. He has other passions, notably photography.

He sees a counselor regularly after a difficult stretch of years. He emerged from what he called “situations I probably shouldn’t have been in.” He plans to reveal specifics later.

“I stopped doing a lot of things in my life that was destroying me,” he said. “I stopped having pain and hurt in my heart and having it consume me. … I started reading my Bible more. I started reading books more. A lot of things that helped me evolve as a human. To have more peace, live properly and not destroy myself from within.”

Bromell doesn’t know where his 2015 or 2016 World Championships medals are. He doesn’t assign as much value to them as he does three-page essays that he received from college fund applicants in 2018. He promised $10,000 each to five students, choosing the recipients based on their submitted life stories.

“There’s people out here that were literally writing in their essays, Tray, your fighting, your drive to not give up helped me to not commit suicide tomorrow,” Bromell said. “Imagine reading something like that. Who would’ve thought this little kid from south side St. Pete could have an impact just by running 100 meters. That’s my gold medal.”

MORE: Usain Bolt would unretire if one man called

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Tyson Gay, Trayvon Bromell eliminated in 100m heats at USATF Outdoors

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Olympians Tyson Gay and Trayvon Bromell were eliminated in the 100m first round at the USATF Outdoor Championships (Summer Champions Series), failing to make the world championships team in the event.

Gay, 34, is racing this weekend eight months after the death of 15-year-old daughter Trinity Gay. His last attempt to make the world team is in the 200m on Saturday and Sunday in Sacramento, but Gay is an underdog there, too.

Gay was third in his 100m heat in 10.17 seconds on Thursday, well off his American record of 9.69 seconds set in 2009. The top two automatically made Friday’s semifinals.

“I had a slight stumble in the blocks and couldn’t really recover,” Gay told media in Sacramento, adding that he was dealing with minor injuries this year.

USATF OUTDOORS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

Starting in 2005, Gay had qualified for every Olympics and world championships except for 2011. He also was taken off the 2013 Worlds team for failing a drug test.

Gay is the last man to outsprint Usain Bolt at an Olympics or worlds, sweeping the 100m, 200m and 4x100m titles in 2007. Gay is the fastest man in history without an Olympic medal to his name.

Bromell, a 2015 World 100m bronze medalist, finished third in his heat in 10.22 fading in the last half. Bromell, 21, was racing for the first time since the Rio Olympics, coming back from Achilles surgery. He was racing hurt.

After summer surgery, Bromell kept off his foot until January, but when he returned to the track the pain came back. Bromell missed another month of training. He’s still dealing with inflammation, but a doctor said there’s no chance he could tear anything in Sacramento.

“When I got to like, 50 [meters], I started feeling some pain,” Bromell told media in Sacramento. “I wanted to show people that I’ve got heart.”

Bromell is not racing in the 200m this weekend, so he is definitively out of worlds in London in August.

“Next year, you’re going to see a new Trayvon,” he said.

The other favorites — Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman — won their heats in 10.0 and 9.93, respectively, to advance. The final is also Friday, when the top three will qualify for the world 100m team and likely the top six for the 4x100m relay.

Gatlin said this year is “probably the most injured I’ve ever been.” He missed weeks of training, slowed by a quadriceps/groin problem since February, according to The Associated Press.

In the women’s 100m, all the favorites advanced to Friday’s semifinals, including Rio Olympic silver medalist Tori Bowie (10.90), nine-time Olympic medalist Allyson Felix (11.03) and Olympic Trials winner English Gardner (11.04).

Felix has a bye into the world championships 400m as defending champion, which she plans to race. Her worlds schedule beyond that is to be determined.

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Justin Gatlin speeds up in Eugene, but another gear needed against Usain Bolt

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EUGENE, Ore. — Justin Gatlin says there’s more left in the tank for Rio. He will need it if Usain Bolt, after recovering from his hamstring injury, is the Bolt of 2015.

As expected, Gatlin won the 100m at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Sunday afternoon. He is now the world’s fastest man for 2016, but he is also slower than his torrid pace from 2015.

“I think there’s more there,” Gatlin said.

In the final, Gatlin clocked 9.80 seconds with a significant tailwind — 1.6 meters per second.

He became the oldest man to make a U.S. Olympic team in a sprint event (100m, 200m or 400m) since 1912.

Gatlin will be joined in Rio by Trayvon Bromell, the 2015 World Championships co-bronze medalist racing at his first meet since suffering a grade-one Achilles tear one month ago.

Bromell clocked 9.84 seconds for second place Sunday, matching his personal best to become, at age 20, the youngest U.S. Olympic men’s 100m runner since 1984.

Marvin Bracy, who passed up playing football for Florida State to pursue a professional track career in 2013, took third in 9.98 seconds.

Several other stars made the Olympic team Sunday. Allyson Felix fought through an ankle injury to win the 400m, halfway to her planned Olympic 200m-400m double. Ashton Eaton prevailed in the decathlon, also while not 100 percentVashti Cunningham became the youngest U.S. track and field Olympian in 36 yearsEnglish GardnerTianna Bartoletta and Tori Bowie provided the fastest women’s 100m podium of all time, all sub-10.80 seconds.

Track and Field Trials
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But the sport’s marquee event is the men’s 100m. And Bolt-Gatlin is the premier (and one-sided) rivalry.

If Gatlin proved anything Sunday, it’s that he is still the world’s top challenger to Bolt. There were doubts coming into this meet, as his best time this year was 9.93 seconds (fifth in the world).

The last two days, Gatlin ran 10.03 in the first round, 9.83 in the semifinals and then the 9.80 final. He now owns the two fastest times in the world this year, though slower than his 9.74 and 9.75 from spring 2015.

“Last year was all about time and running fast and being consistent,” said Gatlin, who suffered a significant ankle injury in the offseason. “This year is about rising to the occasion, rising to the moment.”

And it is unknown how Gatlin will handle the moment in Rio next month. In 2015, Gatlin went to the world championships favored to beat Bolt on the strength of those spring times and injuries to the Jamaican legend the previous year. Many rooted against him, because Gatlin was five years removed from a four-year doping ban and because of the universal admiration for Bolt.

Gatlin led the 100m final until the last few strides. Bolt closed the gap two lanes to his left, and Gatlin made what Michael Johnson called “a Bolt-forced error,” stumbling slightly, flailing his arms and unfurling his usually crisp form.

Bolt won in 9.79. Gatlin was second in 9.80, into a slight headwind.

On Sunday, Gatlin again ran 9.80, but with that tailwind and no late breakdown. NBC Olympics analyst Ato Boldon said that won’t cut it in Rio.

“You can think, oh, Bolt’s not 100 percent this year, and maybe it won’t take 9.6 to win this time, I think you do that at your peril,” Boldon told the House of Run podcast Sunday evening. “Unless you’re going to Rio with designs on running better than 9.70 or thereabouts, the medal you go home with is not going to be gold.”

Gatlin had little intention of getting caught up in Bolt talk Sunday evening. On the Hayward Field track, Lewis Johnson asked Gatlin about having to go through the Jamaican in Rio.

“First of all, I’ve got to face these young bucks right here,” Gatlin responded, standing next to Bromell and Bracy.

Later in the mixed zone, Gatlin was asked if he had any words for Usain. There were none, only a thumbs-up.

Gatlin said his last race before the Olympics will be the 200m here later this week. The next time he races the 100m, it will be in Rio, where Bolt may again be standing a lane or two away.

How does Gatlin plan to change the outcome from last summer?

“Don’t get greedy,” he said Saturday. “If I get greedy … you’re reaching for something that’s not there. You’re reaching for more. Once you’re up there trying to get it, you’re going to fall down.”

MORE: Cunningham becomes youngest U.S. track and field Olympian in 36 years