Recent results suggest Australian distance running is in an exciting renaissance phase. Three runners have stood out and recently produced Australian records on the world stage.
It has been a long time since Australia has done well in a global 100m championship at either the Olympic Games or World Championship level.
I recall Paul Narracott making the final at the 1983 World Championship, a fantastic achievement given his time of 10.33 was only 0.12 behind the silver medallist Calvin Smith (10.21), with the great Carl Lewis winning in 10.07.
Before him, we had Hector Hogan winning bronze at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games.
The rarity of Australian success at the 100m global level is hardly surprising. The 100m is one of the most prestigious and difficult of athletic events, and an event where many young sportsmen around the world try out.
It is an event where many athletes of different sports relate to, especially football codes where speed counts and making a final is perhaps even harder in recent decades because of greater professionalism.
So does Australia have a potential global finalist in Rohan Browning?
On March 27, at the Queensland Track Classic, Browning ran a personal best legal time (10.05 with a 1.0m tailwind) at an Olympic qualifier. On January 16, Browning also ran 9.96 seconds, although with an illegal tailwind of +3.3m/s.
But can Browning make the next step towards becoming a global championship finalist?
After all, Browning ran 10.08 in 2019, yet finished 40th at the 2019 WC in a time of 10.40.
While unlikely this year, Browning’s young age and significant improvement as a young adult suggests that it is possible. Only 23 years of age now, between 2017 and 2021, as Browning improved his best 60m time from 6.83 to 6.55 (similar slight tailwind), his best 100m improved from 10.19 to 10.05.
No surprise here. Top 100m runners must have a fast 60m, and Browning is well aware of this need.
Going on global championship data, virtually all sub-10 seconds 100m sprinters will also break 6.50 for the 60m in their races.
The only exceptions I have observed from data were Carl Lewis at the 1987 World Championship final running 9.93 (60m 6.50), and Calvin Smith running 9.99 in the 1988 Olympic Games final (60m 6.50).
Indeed, the importance of having a fast 60m is evident by the two most efficient 100m performers of all time Usain Bolt and Carl Lewis. With Bolt winning the 2009 WC 100m in a world record 9.58 running through the 60m in 6.29, and Carl Lewis running his lifetime personal best of 9.86 at the 1991 WC going with his first 60m in 6.46, both had similar 60m to 100m ratios of 1.52.
Hence, if Browning was as efficient and technically skilled as Bolt and Lewis, he could find another tenth of a second.
However, given Browning’s smaller stature at 1.79m and 73kg, when compared to taller athletes like Bolt and Lewis who have much longer strides and take longer to hit top speed, this may not be possible.
Browning is already quite efficient when compared to sprinters of similar size. The World Championship 200m sprinter Calvin Smith (178cm and 69kg) had a similar 60m to 100m ratio of 1.536 when running 9.99 in the 1988 Olympic Games final.
So Browning will have to indeed get much faster over 60m if he is to progress to a sub 10.00 sprinter, even allowing for the other training necessary to run out an efficient 100m which includes going through in a fast, but relaxed, 60m.
But even if Browning can get down to under 6.50 for the 60m and 10.00 for the 100m, he needs to be able to peak when it counts and perform at his highest level at a global championship which has multiple rounds.
This is no easy task. Australia’s Patrick Johnson ran the fastest time in the world in 2003 with 9.93 (+1.8w) in May 2003, yet was run out in the quarter finals at the 2003 WC.
Matt Shirvington, who ran 10.03 (-0.1) in the Commonwealth Games final when only 19 years old, also never managed to make a final of the global championship, nor improve his time again. His best global performances were making the semi-finals at the 2000 OG (10th) and WC 2001 (12th).
While Browning has qualified for the Tokyo Games, a considerable achievement given the tough qualifying time set by Australian officials, it would be great to see him perform at a similar level to the times he runs in Australia, allowing for comparable wind conditions.
With a much tougher testing environment for illegal performance-enhancing substances, it is worth noting that three sub-10.10 times (10.03, 10.07 and 10.08) were good enough to make the last global final at the 2019 World Championships behind the now banned Christian Coleman.
Making the semi-finals, which now involves three heats at major global championship rather than two, would be the next important step towards Browning becoming Australia’s next global 100m finalist.
But making the semi-finals will still be difficult to achieve given the 100m is one the most competitive of all athletic events on the global stage.