WITH HIS DOMINATING ’19 World Championships win in an American Record 1:42.34, followed by the world’s fastest ’20 time, 1:43.15, Donavan Brazier is sitting pretty in the 2-lapper. Yet as serious as he is about staying at the top of that heap — very serious indeed — the 23-year-old Michigander plans to spring some surprises on the track world this year.
“I’d like to make a relay team for America,” he tells us. “That’s one of my biggest things. Obviously, I’ve got to take care of business in the 8, do everything I need to do to establish myself as the best American 800 runner, possibly even world. That’s my No. 1 goal; that’s just an obvious one.
“But besides that, I’d like to be making these relay teams for America, either on the 4×4 or the mixed 4×4, whatever it might be to be a part of the 1600m relay and potentially be in the finals for America for that.”
Bold words for a man with a 46.91 PR in the 1-lapper. But longtime watchers of the lanky Brazier have always known there was more under the hood — they saw him clock a 45.92 anchor on a 4×4 as a high schooler.
He explains, “I ran that 46.91 three years ago now at an indoor meet at Texas A&M, so you know, I’m hoping there’s a little more room to grow.”
He adds, “We’re going to go the 400m route before we go up to the 15. Ever since we had Raevyn Rogers join the group, the prospect of “fast races and fast 400s” has increased. “It’s a lot easier to try to talk [Nike coach Pete Julian] into doing more speed stuff. We’re trying to get to that.”
And yes, Brazier also mentioned the 1500, long a point of curiosity. Last season he ran it once, flying away from his competitors on the final lap for what looked like a very easy 3:35.85 PR.
“Given the training that we’d been doing, the mileage that I’m at, it felt like I had more potential in the race than it showed. So, it’s a goal to do the 1500 one day, but that’ll be a last resort-type thing. That’s kind of my insurance once I get older. I have potential and maybe I’ll start exploring it a little bit more.”
The 800 will remain his bread-and-butter event. He became world champion at 22, the same age as his idol Muhammad Ali was when he ascended to the world heavyweight boxing title by knocking out favored Sonny Liston in a much ballyhooed fight in ’64.
Says Brazier, “In my case, I don’t think I was an underdog, but I was still the young guy in the field and I still had to prove something.
“Now I’m looking to have the confidence [Ali] had. I think that’s a big thing as well. What I’m kind of realizing with myself is I just have such a deep belief in myself that, if I’ve got me with me, then nobody can be against me. I like that kind of mindset.”
Brazier thinks back to the Monaco race last summer where he ran his world-leading 1:43.15, just barely holding off Bryce Hoppel. “I was watching the screen. I was comfortable, but not as comfortable as I’d like to be finishing that home stretch because I knew he was on me. It definitely shows you’ve got to stay on the pedal and never let up.”
Turns out Brazier was dealing with a minor injury at the time. As soon as he had arrived in Europe, he had gotten a PRP (platelet-rich-plasma) shot in his foot to speed recovery from a case of plantar fasciitis. “Even getting to the plane, I was limping, it really didn’t look great. Pete and my strength coach thought I wasn’t going to run Monaco, but I was pretty stubborn. I really wanted to run. I never ran Monaco and I heard so many good things about it.
“So we evaluated the risk factor and we realized that it was nothing that’s really going to create anything major from this one race.” The foot didn’t trouble him on the track and as his European tour continued, “it was improving, but it definitely wasn’t improving at the rate that we’d like. So after Stockholm [a win in 1:43.76], we were happy with how everything turned out. We decided to call it quits at that point.”
Brazier has steadily progressed since he started working with Julian in the fall of ’18. “Every year we learn something new about each other and we’re starting to get a familiarity of what we’re able to accomplish in workouts. He’s getting to know what I like, what I don’t like, what my strengths are, what my weaknesses are, and trying to limit the weaknesses I do have.”
He admits that there have been fleeting moments when he’s wondered what it would be like to leave the sport. “It would give me an easy escape. And I don’t want that. I want to be 10 toes down when it comes to this stuff. I want to be the best I can possibly be. So when eventually I do hang up my spikes, I’ll look back on it and know I did everything I possibly could.”
It hasn’t always been that way. “There have been a lot of ups and downs. I failed to make the Olympic team in 2016 [after setting an American Junior Record 1:43:15 in winning the NCAA]. I failed at winning indoor nationals in college and I failed at making a World final [in ’17].
“There were years, up to even 2019, I was handicapping myself. I would say things like, ‘I wish I was doing this, I wish I was doing that, I could be so much better if I did this…’”
His transformation was a mental one, he admits: “I started doing those things instead of talking about them. Just being disciplined on top of being motivated and just the willingness to do the work and being around a group of guys that make it easy to do it helps a lot.
“That’s why I love being in a household full of like-minded and goal-oriented guys. We’re all focused and just trying to tap as much potential as possible.”
A number comes up — 1:39. Is it possible? “Definitely,” he quickly answers, even though it will require PRing by almost 2.5 seconds. “I don’t doubt it one bit. It will happen sooner rather than later, too. That’s not putting any disrespect to David Rudisha. I firmly believe he was the guy to run 1:39, if he had the right race and the right rabbit and the right time. He would be that 1:39 guy. But he wasn’t able to do it. I don’t know if I’m going to be the one to do it, but I definitely do see it happening.”
With a future full of possibilities in the sport, Brazier sees his Doha performance as just another stepping stone: “I don’t think that’s going to be the pinnacle of my career.”
Someday he’ll have more time for his getaway place in Florida, his boat, his plans to run fishing charters once he’s done with track. For now, he says, “I’m definitely in the sport through 2022 Eugene. That’s what I keep telling Pete. I’ll be 25 and we’ll see how my body and my mind feels. If I’m running track, I want to put 100% into it. I’m not going to just be one of these guys that makes U.S. finals and not any teams. If I’m running, I want to be making teams, I want to be running for medals.
“If I still have the energy and the fire and the passion for the sport, I’ll run until I’m 35, like Johnny Gray. But only time will tell with stuff like that.”
One thing Brazier knows. He has to be all in for his dreams to become real: “I can’t let up on the sport because this sport will humble you real fast if you don’t put everything you’ve got into it.”