Name: Trayvon Bromell
Sport: Sprinting (100m, 200m)
Achievements so far: Bronze medal in 100m at 2015 World Championships, first junior to run under 10s for 100m, personal best in 100m of 9.84s (has an unofficial 9.76s).
For Trayvon Bromell, 2015 all turned on one race. Entering the United States trials for the World Championships he was a curiosity case for most, a teenager who had won the college 100m title in his freshman year in blistering fashion but fallen just short of defending it a season later.
He had talent, clearly, but was surely still a little way away from realising it at the senior level.
All that changed in 9.84 seconds on the track in Oregon in June - Bromell establishing himself as the tenth fastest sprinter of all-time (and the fastest teenager in history, so decide for yourself which is the more impressive) in the heats, as he went on and booked a surprise spot on the US team for Beijing in the final.
What followed was every bit as impressive. Bromell went on to catch the eye in China - cruising into the final in his first senior championships before running 9.92s to grab joint third and a bronze medal, the best of rest behind the blockbuster mano-a-mano between Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin.
Silver medallist USA's Justin Gatlin, gold medallist Jamaica's Usain Bolt, bronze medallists USA's Trayvon Bromell and Canada's Andre De Grasse pose with their medals on the podium during the victory ceremony for the men's 100 metres athletics event at t
Image credit: AFP
“I told myself, ‘This is the last 100 of the year, so go hard or go home,’” Bromell said afterwards. “Honestly, I didn’t know where I was in the race, but to come here and be able to place is a blessing.”
He joined those two veterans on the podium alongside another 20-year-old, Canada’s Andre De Grasse (who had snatched his college title in June), with many immediately proclaiming the duo as the heirs apparent to a sport tentatively preparing to say goodbye to Bolt.
“I feel like we are the future,” Bromell agreed. “Me and De Grasse have a lot in common.
“It’s a lot that is hitting us at a young age that could set us up for a big future, we could possibly be the next biggest things in track and field.”
Focused on his college experience at the start of the year, clearly the youngster’s horizons had shifted. Within a few months he had signed with Bolt’s agent, Ricky Simms, and agreed a lucrative endorsement deal with New Balance - one that convinced him to turn professional as he effectively became the face of their burgeoning athletic operation.
Bolt may be plotting retirement after a third golden Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next summer, but it is clear that some are already taking an educated punt that Bromell may just have the talent to spoil the party.
After all, Bolt’s best time in 2015 was just 0.05s better than Bromell’s, but only one of them is at an age where they figure to improve considerably over the coming seasons. Self-belief is the petrol of any athlete with world-class aspirations, nevertheless Bromell’s experience in Beijing has clearly left him believing the 29-year-old can be usurped.
“I feel like anyone can be beaten any given day,” Bromell said in November, when asked about Bolt by TMZ. “It just takes the right person to step up.”
Asked if he specifically could be the man to beat Bolt in 2016, he added: “I feel like I’m a great competitor … it could possibly happen.”
If that were to happen, it would upend some of the received wisdom that dominates modern sprinting. Bolt’s size - and accompanied stride length - has led many to rethink what is required for fast 100m times but Bromell, barely 5’9”, is an almost immediate antithesis to that - where Bolt’s strength has always been his flat speed, the start just an awkward phase to be overcome, the youngster’s grace out of the blocks underpins his flowing running style.
Bromell also stands out for his preference to compete in running shorts, rather than the skin-tight all-in-one outfits most of his rivals prefer. Rather than a sartorial preference it is seemingly a technical one, with the youngster believing it affords him a fraction more flexibility to match the stride pattern of his bigger opponents.
Trayvon Bromell of USA walks off the track after winning his semi-final heat in the men's 100m during day two of the IAAF World Junior Championships at Hayward Field on July 23, 2014 in Eugene, Oregon
Image credit: AFP
“[The short-shorts] give me a lot of knee-lift,” he said. “I feel like being a shorter guy in the 100, you’ve got have a bigger stride to keep up with guys with longer legs.”
Bromell has already acknowledged that his performance at the Worlds elevated his profile, putting him in a position to land New Balance’s lucrative deal. It may have cost him his final two years of eligibility at Baylor University in Texas (where he will still continue to train) but it enabled him to capitalise when the hype, and thus his value, was at its highest.
Trayvon Bromell reacts after finishing first in heat four of the Men's 100 meter dash during day one of the 2015 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field on June 25, 2015
Image credit: AFP
“We [he and his family] weren’t big on taking chances for next year,” he noted. “You could get injured and your value would drop. We felt like the opportunity was in our face.”
Perhaps too Bromell - who has experienced setbacks before, fracturing both knees and a hip in a three-year span during school - was tacitly acknowledging that 2016 has as much potential to be bust as boom for him. Indeed, the biggest obstacle to his chances of an Olympic coming out party may well come at the American trials, where he will almost certainly have to be both fully fit and on form just to qualify for the team to head to Brazil.
Brommell will have to contend with Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay and Mike Rodgers for three places in the 100m (at the Worlds, all four were able to go as Gatlin qualified automatically as the Diamond League winner) - while Ryan Bailey, Clayton Vaughn and Marvin Bracy all ran sub-10 seconds in 2015 and figure to only go faster in 2016.
The 200m promises to be similarly competitive, with Bromell only the third fastest American of 2015 - and that was tied, with the veteran Wallace Spearmon. For his age, Bromell is also less impressive in the longer sprint against contemporaries: Britain’s Zharnel Hughes, three days younger, has a better personal best and finished fifth in the final at the worlds, while De Grasse is also significantly further along in his development (albeit also nine months older).
While definitive judgements are best left to the experts, It is perhaps also in the 200m where Bromell’s height and stride length may combine to prevent him ever being dominant.
But make no mistake, in the 100m the sky appears to be the limit. No sprinter in history has gone as fast as Bromell at the same age, with Bolt not going sub-10 seconds until he was 20 (admittedly he was more focused on the 200m up to that point in his career).
Bromell has already gone faster than Linford Christie, Ato Boldon and Carl Lewis ever managed - and he has not even completed a full senior season yet.
Bolt’s biggest progression came after he turned 21, running the 9.69s that was heard around the world in Beijing in 2008. Now the Jamaican is at the other end of nature’s curve - desperately staving off the deterioration of age for one final lap of honour - as Bromell tries to accelerate his progression in time to take the scalp of the greatest to ever run.
“I feel like we are equal in a sense - we are both hungry for gold,” Bromell added, on a potential Rio showdown. “It would be a good race.
“I feel like I could put up a good fight - and possibly bring home a gold.”