The man anointed by Usain Bolt as the favourite to succeed him as Olympic 100 metres champion is detailing his extraordinary journey to the Tokyo Games. It is quite the tale. Trayvon Bromell grew up on the south side of St Petersburg, Florida, where poverty and gangs were rife. His mother worked 7pm-7am every day to keep a roof over their heads. His best friend ended up in jail. And yet, despite also breaking both his knees and a hip as a child, he ended up winning bronze at the 2015 world championships as a 20-year-old – behind Bolt – only to spend years being unable to run due to severe injuries.
So when the 26-year-old American is asked whether the lack of crowds in Tokyo will present a challenge, he quickly puts things into perspective. “Not for me,” he says. “I grew up with no eyes watching me. People weren’t there when I struggled. People weren’t there when me and my mom could barely pay the bills. And when we didn’t know whether we were going to have a house over our heads there were no eyes on me. So now when I run, it doesn’t factor for me. It’s the same 100 metres.”
Bromell is eloquent off the track – with a master’s degree in business and a nerdy interest in photography – and electric on it. Last month he ran 9.77sec, making him the seventh fastest man in history and the instant favourite for Tokyo. But, intriguingly, he says he sees the bigger picture. “This Olympics is important to me but not for the same reasons as other athletes. A lot of people want a gold medal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I don’t. But my biggest purpose is change. I just want to give hope. I want kids to see me, and see that they could do it too.
“That gold medal will definitely be a great accomplishment. But the real gold medal is the change that is going to bring. Because people will see like, dang, he went rock-bottom. He didn’t give up. He kept pushing. He made it back to the pinnacle of the sport. And won. This is what I’m trying to show kids across the globe, that all odds can be against you. That doesn’t mean you stop fighting.”
This will be Bromell’s second Olympics. He entered the first, in Rio, struggling with a bone spur that led to him finishing eighth and last in the 100m final. Then, to make matters worse, he shredded his achilles in the 4x100m relay – which led to a wheelchair being brought out on the track to help him.
It was only the start of his pain. He missed most of the 2017 season after surgery, didn’t race at all in 2018 after needing another operation and then in 2019 suffered a serious hip injury. Most athletes would have given up, but Bromell, who credits his belief in God with his ability to stay strong, has come back from the track and field wilderness.
“I broke all these bones,” he says. “I’ve had all these injuries that most will probably never come back from. I’ve met with many doctors, more than any one athlete should have to meet. And they all came back with the same result: ‘You won’t run fast.’ I’ve been hearing that since I was in eighth grade when I broke my knee the first time: ‘Sorry, sir, you will never run fast.’ I came back, ran fast. Broke other knee. Came back, ran fast. Broke my hip doing track and field. Came back. Ran fast. And then the two achilles surgeries. But … 9.77.”
Has anybody ever seen when they first take a lobster out of the water? Disgusting. Not going in my body
Bromell says that the injuries have shown just how professional he has to be with his diet – although his diet has a couple of unusual twists. “My coach in college always told us that we’re high-class vehicles,” he says. “You’re not going to play cheap gas in a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. So you can’t put bad food into your system. I don’t eat pork no more. I don’t eat seafood because these creatures were made to be bottom-feeders of the planet, to clean the bottom of the earth. So I don’t put that in my body.”
“Has anybody ever seen when they first take a lobster out of the water?” he continues, warming to his theme. “Disgusting. Not going in my body.”
Bromell also admits to having some sympathy with his fellow American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, who will miss Tokyo after being banned for a month after testing positive for marijuana – but, he insists, rules are rules. “Everyone was loving how fast she was running and for Sha’Carri it sucks because it’s not a performance-enhancing drug,” Bromell adds. “However it is on the banned list, so we do have to abide by the rules. But on the positive side, it is making people kind of rethink. Should this even be on the list?”
Before we finish, Bromell is asked what he makes of Bolt’s comments that he is a warm favourite for Tokyo. He stresses he loves the Jamaican but insists he isn’t letting such talk go to his head. “I’m humble and I’m hungry, but I respect everybody’s talent. But these Olympics are important to me.
“Back in 2016, I wanted it all for myself. I wanted to win. I wanted to be the big dog. I wanted to be ‘he’s the next greatest’. What’s happened since has made me understand what my true purpose was.”