On Sunday night, having failed to qualify for the 100m final, Australian sprinter Rohan Browning reflected on his rollercoaster 24 hours. “That’s just championship racing – sometimes you nail it, sometimes you don’t,” he said. “It’s a sport where the smallest of margins really matter.”
Having won his heat on Saturday evening in 10.01, the second fastest time in Australian history, Browning was unable to quite repeat his heroics in the semi-final, posting 10.09. He was less than one-tenth of a second off Nigerian Enoch Adegoke, in 10.00, who qualified for the 100m final.
One-tenth of a second, or the two one-hundredths that Browning needed on Saturday to break the 10 second barrier, are the finest of margins. These are the speeds at which butterflies flap their wings and it feels almost cruel that Browning’s performances in Tokyo are measured at such a scale. It is the difference in reaction time off the blocks, the difference in the final lunge at the line. As Browning said, it is the smallest of margins that really matter.
For casual athletics fans, Browning may have arrived on Saturday with his heat win – the first for an Australian at the Games since 1956. But for those who pay closer to attention to the Australian track scene, Browning has been on the radar for some time. Consistently running times in the low 10 second range – and even once breaking into the hallowed single digit club, albeit with an illegal tail-wind – Browning was always likely to impress in Tokyo.
But the manner in which he won his heat underscored the 23-year-old’s potential. Browning was not lucky to be there. He was in Tokyo, at the start line of the 100m semi-final, where he belonged. Rohan Browning is the real deal.
He has work to do – 10.01 is not 9.99, however fine the margin may seem. All of the finalists in the 100m on Sunday night have sub-10 personal bests and the winning time, from Italy’s Lamont Marcell Jacobs, was 9.80. If Browning is to challenge at this highest level and be a legitimate medal contender at major events he will have to continue to improve. But Browning has time on his side – he was one of the younger runners across the semi-final field.
“I’ve always thought that this sport is all about consistency rather than one off major times and then not being there,” he said. “I’ve been very consistent around that 10.0 point. That’s where you need to be to run sub-10 and truly be at that level. But obviously I’m just not quite there yet. Hopefully not far off.”
On what Browning showed in Tokyo, you would not bet against him. It is surely just a matter of time before he joins Patrick Johnson as the only Australians to have run sub-10. Johnson’s 9.93 national record does not seem an impossible ambition for Browning.
And so, Browning will dust himself off and go ahead. “There’s always something,” he said after his Tokyo dream ended. That is the upside of elite sport. Another opportunity always awaits.
Browning will head next to Europe, where he intends to compete on the athletics circuit. Next year he will contest the World Indoor Championships, the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games. He will be among the favourites at the latter; his time in the Tokyo 2020 heat would have won him gold at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.
It has been a long-time since Australia had a bona fide 100m star. Confident and charismatic, Browning has the makings of a star on and off the track. If he can shave a few one hundredths of a second off his current personal best, and run consistently sub-10, he will be well-placed ahead of the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
“There are bits and pieces I walk away with that are positive, and bits that I can work on. That’s part of the learning experience,” Browning said as he said goodbye to the Olympic Stadium. “Ultimately I’ve learnt a lot from this. That’s the main thing.”
This is not the end for Rohan Browning. Tokyo 2020 was just the beginning.