Allyson Felix finishes in second place in the women’s 400-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Trayvon Bromell wins the men’s 100-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
EUGENE, Ore. >> A hush fell over Hayward Field as Trayvon Bromell and the rest of the Olympic Trials 100-meter final sprinters stood behind the starting blocks Sunday night for a race doctors told him he would never run, a race that less than two years ago he questioned whether he even wanted to run.
Bromell made the sign of the cross, pointed to the sky, settled into his blocks and stared down the track. In front of him was less than 10 seconds that would determine whether or not he would compete in a second Olympic Games.
Behind him are five years of heartbreak.
The gun went off and Bromell led from the first step, leaving all the pain, the doubts, all his darkest moments, and finally one of the fastest U.S. 100 field’s ever assembled behind with a 9.80-seconds victory.
Five years ago, he left the Olympic Stadium in a wheelchair, crippled by an injury that twice nearly ended his career and sent him spiraling into depression. Now he was headed back to the Games, his long nightmare replaced once again by a golden dream.
Bromell’s victory was but one of several compelling storylines Sunday night in Tracktown USA.
Allyson Felix, the most decorated track and field Olympian, is headed to a fifth Games while Michael Norman, considered one the sport’s brightest young stars, punched a ticket to his first.
Felix, fourth coming off the final turn, dug down for one more dramatic stretch run, leaning at the wire for second in 50.02 seconds. A mere eight hundredths of a second separated Felix and fourth-place finisher Kendall Ellis, the former USC NCAA runner-up.
Norman, the former Vista Murrieta High and USC standout, also had to find an extra gear in the men’s 400 final. Norman, coached by 1992 Olympic champion Quincy Watts, led for most of the race only to see Michael Cherry sneak up on his inside, pulling even, if not ahead, around the final turn.
“That’s just the most important part of the race,” Norman said.”That’s where the race begins.”
Building onto the homestretch, Norman surged 30 meters out, holding on for a 44.07 victory. Cherry was second in 44.35.
Five years ago, Norman, then a high school senior, had just missed making the team in the 200, finishing fifth.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Norman said. “It’s been five long years, so to come in here and check one more box off my dream list is a long time coming. Only half the job is done.”
As with Bromell and Norman, Sunday was also a night of redemption for Keni Harrison, the world record-holder in the 100 hurdles. Harrison arrived at the Trials five years ago the Olympic gold medal favorite but failed to make Team USA, finishing sixth in the final.
This time she left no doubt with a 12.47 victory. Whether Brianna McNeal, the reigning Olympic champion, will be joining her in Tokyo remains to be seen.
McNeal finished second in 12.51 but has to wait and see if the Court of Arbitration for Sport upholds her appeal of a five-year suspension for a 2020 doping process violation. She was able to compete at the Trials after CAS issued a stay of the suspension pending the outcome of the appeal. CAS is expected to rule on the appeal prior to the Tokyo Games.
“I can celebrate,” she said. “I’m just happy that I had the opportunity to compete here. It’s been a long journey so for the next few weeks I’m just gonna pray.”
Bromell was a Baylor freshman when he emerged on the world scene in 2015 as the most likely heir apparent to Jamaica’s Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin.
He won the NCAA title in 9.97 becoming the first 18-year-old to break 10.00, and then went on to claim the World Championships gold medal behind Bolt and Gatlin. Bromell, then a pro, won the World Indoor Championships 60-meter crown in March 2016.
But a few weeks later he began experiencing pain in his left heel while warming up for a Diamond League race in England. An X-ray revealed a bone spur near his Achilles. Surgery, however, would have to wait.
The Olympic Trials were only a month away. Bromell finished second to Gatlin at the Trials and then spent much of the lead up to the Olympic Games limited to running on anti-gravity treadmills, in swimming pools and occasionally on grass.
He still managed to make the Olympic final before his lack of fitness was exposed, finishing last in 10.06. And he was on the anchor for Team USA against Bolt in the 4×400 final on the Games’ final weekend.
With Bolt and the gold medal out of reach, and Japan pulling away for the silver, Bromell lunged at the finish for the bronze medal, crashing to the track and reinjuring his heel.
Unable to stand without excruciating pain, Bromell was taken off the track in a wheelchair. He was being examined in a stadium medical office when his teammates gave him the bad news: Gatlin and Mike Rodgers had passed outside the exchange zone. Team USA was disqualified.
He had surgery after the Games and was unable to race for 10 months. Even then the heel continued to bother him. The tendon was barely attached to the bone.
“Doctors told me I would never run again,” Bromell said. “All I had was my faith.”
Even that was tested when another surgery kept him off the track for two years. An abductor muscle injury in 2019 derailed another comeback.
Bromell considered walking away from the sport and fell into a deep depression.
“I had a death wish,” he admitted last week.
He switched coaches, turned to his deep religious belief and an old friend.
“Faith is measured in patience,” he said. “Only one that cared about me was God. But I went over my faith and realized that was stronger than focusing on humanity.”
He was inspired to return to racing last summer by one of his first coaches, Garlynn Boyd. Just days before Bromell’s July 4 return to racing, Boyd, who had battled diabetes for years, died from coronavirus at age 54.
“I don’t even have the words to explain this pain I’m feeling,” Bromell wrote on Instagram shortly after Boyd’s death. “God knows that with everything in me, the world will know the lives you help change!”
Dedicating his return to Boyd, Bromell was clocked in 10.04 and then improved to 9.90 later in the season. He then established himself as the gold medal favorite for Tokyo with a 9.77 blast June 5 in Florida. It was the seventh fastest time in history.
Bromell previewed his finals victory earlier Sunday by cruising to a 9.90 into a slight headwind in the semi-finals despite taking his foot off the gas in the final 15 meters.
Ninety minutes later he controlled the final from the gun, his victory never in doubt. Ronnie Baker was second in 9.85. Fred Kerley, the 2019 U.S. 400 champion who had more than a few heads shaking when he opted for the 100 earlier this season, was third at 9.86. Kenny Bednarek ran 9.89 but couldn’t crack the top three.
U.S. OLYMPIC TRACK AND FIELD TRIALS
When: Monday, June 20
Where: Hayward Field, Eugene, Oregon
Finals: Women’s 1,500, 5,000 meters; Men’s 800
What to watch for: Temperatures are supposed to hit 97 degrees Monday so look for tactical races in the women’s 1,500 and 5,000 meters. The 800 with the Donovan Brazier-Bryce Hoppel showdown one of the most anticipated of the Trials should be plenty fast.