The world of international elite sprinting had hardly heard of Asafa Powell, Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay when Darrel Brown made his mark in the senior ranks at 18-years-old. A silver medal in the 100 metres at the 2003 World Championships, in Paris, confirmed the prodigious talent of the young man who had set World age records at 14, 16, 17 and, now, 18.
While Powell, Bolt and Gay have made spectacular progess, taking the 100m into new territory, the question has to be asked: where has Brown been all these years?
“Hurt.” Brown said with a good-natured smile. “But my mother always told me: ‘When its your time, it will come. You have to be patient.’ So I keep training and hopefully my time will come.” Does she still say it to him? “Every day,” Brown insisted.
Still determined to put the years of injury behind him and climb back to the top, Brown trains diligently under the supervision of Stephen Francis, Powell’s coach. Not only does Brown and, of course, his mother Marilyn believe more great days are ahead, so does Francis. “I have no doubt that, in the strongest possible field of 100m men on earth, he can medal,” Francis said, adding the caveat that he just needs to stay injury-free.
“I could be World champion, I could be Olympic champion, I could be anything, I just have to be patient and wait,” Brown said. Is he not frightened by the times that Powell, Bolt and Gay have been running? “No, I’m not frightened,” he said. “You just do what you have to do and hopefully you could come out on top.”
Born in Arima as the youngest of four siblings, Brown has two sisters and one brother. Although he was keen on football, he realised when he was only 13 that his talent was in sprinting. “I played soocer (with friends in the street) but I was not too good at it,” Brown recalled. “I realised I was better at running when I made my first Carifta Games (Caribbean regional junior championships) team.
Describing this occasion as his first success, Brown added: “In 1998, when I made my first Carifta team, I was the youngest on the whole team. I was 13. I came fifth in the Final (under 17, representing Trinidad and Tobago). In 1999 and 2000 I represented Trinidad again at the Carifta Games and I won the (U17) 100 and 200. At the CAC (Central American and Caribbean) Championships in 2000, I won the 100 and 200 (Under 17), and in 2000 I also came fourth (100m) in the World Junior Championships.”
For three years after he narrowly missed a medal in the 2000 World Juniors, in Santiago, there was no stopping Brown. In Santiago, he had finished behind Mark Lewis-Francis (Great Britain), Salem Mohamed Al-Yami (Saudi Arabia) and his fellow Trinidadian, Marc Burns but, in 2001, Brown won the 100m at the World Youth Championships, in Debrecen, Hungary, and, in 2002, the World Junior title in Kingston.
Already he had started to make inroads in the senior ranks. At the 2001 World Championships, in Edmonton, he helped Trinidad and Tobago to the silver medal in the 4x100m. In so doing, Brown (age 16 years, 305 days) became the youngest ever World Championships medallist.
In 2002, as well as his World Junior triumph (10.09), Brown won the 100m (10.18) at the CAC Championships in, Bridgetown. It was a Trinidad and Tobago 1-2 on both occasions as Burns finished second (10.18 in Kingston, 10.42 in Bridgetown). Then, in 2003, Brown finished just one-hundredth of a second away from becoming senior World champion.
After setting a World Junior record 10.01 in the Quarter-Finals in Paris, Brown was denied the senior title only by Kim Collins, the Commonwealth champion from St. Kitts and Nevis. Collins recorded 10.07 and Brown 10.08, although it was a memorable event for many reasons.
Powell was disqualified and so was John Drummond, who would go on to help coach Gay to his 100/200m double at the 2007 World Championships, in Osaka. But Drummond refused to leave, performing a lay-down protest on the track. Two of the big names behind Brown, Dwain Chambers and Tim Montgomery, were subsequently disqualified for doping offences.
How had Brown felt as an 18-year-old in the grown-up world of superstar athletes? “I was pretty nervous but, after we started, I just went out there and did my thing,” he recalled. He was still a schoolboy at the time, attending El Dorado Secondary Comprehensive. But it didn’t stop him from becoming the youngest 100m medallist in World Championships history.
Brown was inspired more by Maurice Greene, of the United States, than his Trinidad and Tobago team-mate Ato Boldon. “I saw Ato in the ‘96 Olympics then Maurice came out from ’97 - he was the main one (inspiration),” Brown recalled. “When I saw him in ‘97 and he came back again in ‘99, I thought I would like to do that sometime in my career and maybe sometime I’ll do it.” Greene was 100m World champion in 1997, 1999 and 2001.
However, in 2004, Brown’s progress stalled due to a hip injury. Although he did compete in the Olympic Games, in Athens, it was only in the 4x100m, in which Trinidad and Tobago finished seventh. In 2005 he was eliminated in the 100m Semi-Finals (7th) at the World Championships, in Helsinki, although he did pick up a relay silver medal and won the Central American and Caribbean title (10.02) in Nassau, Bahamas.. “That year I was coming back from the injury,” he explained. “I had an on-and- off year sometimes I would run fast, sometimes I did not run fast. It was inconsistent year for me.”
In 2006 Brown hardly competed because of hamstring trouble. And 2007? “Before the World Championships I got a stress fracture in my right foot,” he said. Allowing time, rather than surgery, to be the healer, Brown returned for a strong winter’s training, his second under Francis. Parting company with Henry Rolle, his coach from 2003, Brown joined the MVP group in Kingston, Jamaica. A big change then? “Not really,” Brown said. “Jamaica is just like Trinidad, so it wasn’t really a big adjustment.”
Francis explained: “Last year was a messy situation, where his toe started paining him, and it turned out there was a growth. But, this year he is in very, very good shape. He is still carrying some lingering injuries in his hamstring but I think he is good to go. If he is healthy, he is going to be a handful for any sprinter to handle.
“What he has been through is probably a result of his body type and maybe he had not done enough true developmental work as a youngster. But his fitness has improved a lot and he is more likely to be able to perform without great problems. There are no long-term injuries that he carries. I think most of his injuries are probably because he didn’t really have a good base for fitness.”
Leading up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Brown has kept largely off the big stage. He did not appear in any of the four Golden League meetings and raced in only two Super Grand Prix competitions: he finished second in Doha (9 May) and fifth in Monaco (29 July). However, he won in Eugene on 1 June (10.07)
Prepared by David Powell for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. © 2008 IAAF
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