Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Trayvon Bromell makes Usain Bolt a believer

Trayvon Bromell has become many people's favourite for the Olympic 100m - even Usain Bolt expects big things. Read his remarkable story here.
By Ken Browne

When Trayvon Bromell says he wants to be an Olympic champ, nobody laughs anymore.

Born in a part of south Florida where violence and poverty rage, his best friend ended up in prison, and he says that he's scarred from the things he's seen. The American is clear in his belief that track athletics saved his life.

As a kid they laughed at him when he said that one day he'd be Olympic champion, now Bromell is the fastest man in the world (9.77 seconds for 100m in 2021) and Usain Bolt says he's "one to watch" with the 100m at the Tokyo Games set for 1 August.

Bromell raced Bolt in the Jamaican's last ever Olympic race, and while Bolt blazed to immortality, Bromell was taken away in a wheelchair.

Their 2016 head-to-head came in the final leg of the 4x100 relay in Rio and, typically, Bromell left it all on the track, practically throwing his body over the line, crashing to the ground to help the USA finish third.

Only after he left the track did he find out that his team was disqualified for an illegal baton pass. Just turned 21, it was devastation for Trayvon.

The latest knock in a life of hard knocks, and what was to come next was worse, with injuries and surgeries nearly crushing his dreams.

"Help someone see that you are just like them and they can make it. Life is not easy, battles won’t get easier. But with God, we can win together." - Trayvon Bromell

Faith and patience have brought Bromell back from the brink, now he says he's out to become an icon like Bolt and inspire the people who come from where he comes from.

"I always wanted to help people, but never knew how I could! I’m from the south side of St.Pete Fl. Where life is hard, and no room for dreams," the soon-to-be 26-year-old said on Instagram.

Trayvon Bromell wins U.S. Track Olympic Trials 100m

Bromell stepped up to the men's 100m at the U.S. Track and Field trials starting line in Oregon as favourite and didn't disappoint, clocking 9.80 to blast past Ronnie Baker (9.85) and Fred Kerley (9.86) who will both join Bromell in Tokyo.

“Words still can’t put it into play what just happened,” Bromell said afterwards. “Like I’ve been telling people all this year: It’s God’s work.”

His Christian faith has helped ground him, his past drives him, it's an unstoppable combination.

“I really want people to understand this, doctors, people who wait years learning about this stuff, told me I will not be able to run,” Bromell said before the trials. “All I had was my faith. All I had was my strength, perseverance.”

Winning the US trials in the post-Bolt era automatically puts you in the conversation for Olympic gold, and even the reigning champion has one eye on him.

“He was one of the young stars who was [coming up]," Bolt told Olympics.com recently, "I am really keeping my eye on him and what he’s going to produce.”

In the Tokyo 2020 men’s 100m final, all eyes will be on Trayvon: An amazing achievement when you consider where he's come from and what he's had to overcome.

Trayvon Bromell is helped into a wheelchair at Rio 2016. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Humble beginnings

Bromell was born in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1995, and his mother raised him on her own, struggling to provide for the family.

He's been running as long as he can remember, match racing from when he was four, coached by Garlynn Boyd since then.

He credits 'Coach G' for keeping him off the streets and away from a much worse fate in the sport he says 'saved his life,' she was a guiding light that he lost in June 2021 to Covid, aged 54.

As a kid a young Trayvon would tell people he wanted to be a big-time Olympian and they would laugh at him.

"Where we come from you don’t really see too many people get to that level," he tells T&F News.

"Back then, you told people your dreams, they laughed at it. You were lucky to graduate out of high school, even get a good job.

"Most people, they graduated high school, they work as bank tellers or fast food or at Walmart. You know, that was the vision of it all. Many of us that grew up in that environment saw this as a reality."

Trayvon Bromell: High school hype

There was a time when he was the most exciting young sprinter on the planet.

Florida Track and Field Athlete of the Year in 2013, a standout at Baylor, NCAA 100m champion as a freshman in 2014, 200m indoor champ a year later with the second-best time in college history.

As a teenager he did all that despite a host of other injuries including two broken knees, alone. “I didn’t have the money and the finances for that stuff,” he said.

Through incredible drive and determination, he went pro after two years competing in Waco.

Then the biggest moment so far came in 2016 at 20 years of age when he made the Olympic team despite a serious Achilles heel sprain, clocking 9.84 to finish behind only Justin Gatlin.

Frustratingly, the injury made it impossible to prepare for the Games the way he wanted and he finished eight in the individual 100m before it all ended in that terrible tumble and the jolted joy of an Olympic medal denied.

Rock bottom and resurgance

Surgery after the Games wrote off most of 2017, and on his return things still weren't right meaning further surgery in 2018, then just when things started to look up in 2019 he suffered a hip injury, his adductor muscles dragging him back into the cylce of rehab.

“It was days where I get no phone calls, I did no interviews, nobody cared about Trayvon,” Bromell said. “The only person that cared about me was God, my family.”

In 2019 he changed coach and started working with Rana Reider, who didn't know if the problems Bromell had could even be fixed.

"Basic tests, like basic hops on legs, just really basic stuff, he couldn’t do," Reider told USA Today. "So really we weren’t sure how much we could get him back, and how long it would take."

Small steps, rebuilding exercises, and 'prehab exercises' allied with Bromell's incredible pain threshold, appetite for work and desire to succeed mean he's back in world-beating shape.

The Olympic postponement because of Covid came as a Godsend for him, literally, he believes.

An extra year to work and recover has brought results like his 9.77 world fastest time of the year at Miramar in Florida on 5th June, and then his performance at the trials later the same month.

Never afraid to speak his mind, Bromell was fired up and as tenacious in his talk with the press after his trials win as he was on the track, speaking his truth:

"Understand, the perseverance and the fight through all this is very tough, it's very hard for an athlete... You the people, you the media put athletes on pedestals and when things like this happen we crash, we go rock bottom.

"Like I had a death wish, I didn't know what to do because it was a sport that I felt saved my life."

The Real Trayvon Bromell

The doubts, the pain, the laughter, the anger, it's all fuel for the fire for Trayvon Bromell.

"The scars is the strength," he told T&FN, "because I feel like God took me through a trial time to build me into the person that I needed to be within the sport and on this earth. I feel like that’s why you see the drive and ambition in me when I race."

As for the pre-race? Don't expect him to dance.

"I’m not that guy that gets out there and does all the dancing and all the crazy stuff before and after the race. I didn’t grow up like that. You know what I’m saying? I represent something bigger than all that.

"So when I step up on the track, you see the humble beginnings; I think that’s what a lot of people can relate to... I’m me, I never changed up. I’m still the same guy who wears a black hoodie and a hat everywhere."

Bromell believes that he has a higher purpose in Tokyo, to save lives and spread hope.

“I want to help people save their lives, their securities in their lives to give them hope," he said pre-trials.

"There’s a lot of people out here facing mental disorders and not understand what to do next. I want to be an icon and a vessel showing to keep fighting on, no matter if the world count you out.”

Now when Trayvon Bromell says he's going to be an Olympic champion, nobody laughs anymore.