Five years ago Rohan Browning was one of four young Aussie boys trying to become the man. Now he’s on the verge of an achievement that no Aussie male sprinter has achieved for 65 years – a place in the 100m Olympic final – and has recorded our country’s fastest-ever 100m in a Games.
The leader of that quartet was Tasmanian Jack Hale, who had just been crowned the fastest 16-year-old in the world when I spoke to Browning, also then 16, for the first time about his ambitions.
The ‘Hale Storm’ created a storm of publicity. His runs captivated Facebook, which is where Browning first heard of his soon to be under 18 rival, before using Hale as an inspiration on the long run from 2015 to a blistering heat win and national ‘Oh My God’ moment in Tokyo.
BROWNING YOU BEAUTY!
— 7Olympics (@7olympics) July 31, 2021
Hale’s breakthough run of 10.44 seconds – viewed more than 300,000 times on Fox Sports socials, came right after a meet where Browning ran his then PB of 10.90.
“I was thrilled at going sub 11 — that was my big goal — but when I heard Jack went 10.44 I was blown away,” said Browning in my interview with him for Fox Sports in 2015.
“I thought that’s incredible — this guy’s a freak! And I thought ‘how am I ever going to be able to compete with that?
“He’s been awesome for me. It’s since I met him that I’ve started training so much.
“Jack running those times has been very good for me and a lot of runners around Australia because it proves these times can be run and I think it certainly gave me a desire to constantly improve and be competitive.
“As soon as it happened friends were tagging me on Facebook to read the Fox Sports story.”
Browning went to his school and his coach Andrew Murphy, a former Olympic triple jumper, had heard of Hale’s feats.
“I asked him ‘what do you think I can do by the end of the year’?. He said ‘he’s gone 10.44, what’s stopping you from doing that?’. It was quite a profound moment for me because it was at that stage I thought there is nothing stopping me except myself and my commitment to sport.
“It was at that moment I thought I’d go hard with it.
“And if there hadn’t been all that hype around Jack’s 10.44 maybe I wouldn’t have been driven to match that.”
Browning was not an early developer or a star in primary school. He was more into rugby and his mother urged him to consider sprinting, telling him he was an average rugby player but a good runner. But he was no natural on the track either.
“I reached a point in year 8 that I didn’t even win my high school 100m — that was my lowest point, and it was certainly a long way to climb from there,” Browning said back then.
In year nine he moved schools to Trinity — where came under the tutelage of Murphy, whom he thanked after Saturday night’s run.
"I had a look at the start list when the heats came out and I thought, 'geez I've probably got one of the stiffest heats'.
"But you'd rather do it the hard way, because it's much more satisfying that way."
— 7Olympics (@7olympics) July 31, 2021
Browning started out in lane one of heat seven on Saturday in what is the most competitive event in all the Olympics. Hec Hogan, the 1956 bronze medallist, is our most recent finalist.
“I tend to find myself in a pretty good headspace for a sprinter,” he said in 2015, while still in school. “I tend to be relaxed going into a run. I definitely don’t think you can take it too seriously — you do that and you’ve signed your own death warrant.”
He shot away with a perfect start and as he crossed the line in first out in the boondocks, Jamaica’s Yohan Blake shot him a puzzled look.
Browning knows he surprised a few people, and not just overseas sprinters.
“Lots of media pundits have been writing up really well-meaning stories about how great it would be for me to make a final,” Browning said.
“I’ve never been here to just make a final. No matter what the bookies say, the pundits, the punters. I hope there are a few more believers tonight.
“You’re in lane one you don’t get a personalised introduction. I was definitely trying to harness the underdog spirit. I don’t think I’ve helped my Stawell [Gift] handicap for next year.
“I doubt any of those guys have any idea who I am. I’ve been patient this year I’ve been training and running in Australia.
“I’ve been dying for a bit of world class competition, that’s what I was looking forward to today.”
Back then Browning, who also had challengers in Trae Williams and Jordan Shelley, went to work to be the best.
“I was 16. I was still growing,” he told The Age before these Games. “[Murphy] said stick with it and keep training and be patient.
“The penny-drop moment was shortly after that. I had this amazing progression, which I can only put down to more frequent regular training, which I had never done before, and a healthy dose of puberty and technical work and gym.
“I had this improvement where I went from 10.90 to 10.62, to a wind-assisted 10.39, to wind-legal 10.47 and all of a sudden I was right there in the rarefied air with Jack, where literally a month before I was nowhere.
“I just feel like it’s always enlivened this belief in me that truly anything is possible and there is no value in putting any upper limit on yourself and if you think that way you shouldn’t be in the sport.”
Hale narrowly missed qualifying for the Rio Olympics as an 18-year-old and was third behind Browning when the Sydneysider confirmed his place at Tokyo in March with the fastest time on Australian soil of 10.05.
Only one Australian has beaten the 10 second barrier legally. Patrick Johnson set his national record 9.93 in Japan 18 years ago. Browning, now, undisputedly, the man seems destined to become the second.