Sport Sprinter Rohan Browning's path to pace, pain and perfection
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Rohan Browning is fast.
No Australian has run faster on home soil than the time of 10.05 seconds he set in Queensland last month to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
And what does it feel like to be running faster than 11 metres every second in a blurring whirr of legs and arms in perfect synchronicity?
"It feels like pure elation, feels very smooth," he told ABC Sport.
"But the average corgi could outrun you, so, I suppose, that's a humbling sort of fact."
And if you want an insight into Browning's character, you have it right there. Fast, yes, but not as fast as a stumpy dog with little legs.
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You might call it perspective. Certainly, Browning is pragmatic.
And so, when he did finally achieve a childhood dream and qualified for the Olympics, it wasn't the awe-inspiring moment of disbelief that so many athletes describe.
Instead, he described it as "ticking a box", despite earning the right to become the first Australian man to represent his country in the 100 metres at a Summer Games since Josh Ross in 2004.
"Well, I mean obviously it felt good, in terms of what it meant," he says.
"It meant that I had ticked off a goal and an ambition that I'd had since the start of the season.
"I'm not a very sentimental person by nature and I probably don't stop enough to let it all sink in."
It's only the beginning
It's not arrogance as such, it's belief. Browning always knew he could do it and so when he ran the time, it was just the start of the journey, not the end.
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"I said before that running the qualifier felt like meeting an expectation, and you know I think making the final will feel a lot like meeting the sort of the minimum expectation that I've set for myself."
His qualifying time of 10.05 would have earned him a spot in the semi-finals of the 2016 Rio Games.
Three months ago, he ran even faster – 9.96 seconds — albeit with an illegal tailwind, but it means he knows he can run under the magic 10-second barrier.
And now the Sydneysider has another record in his sights.
"I'd love to break Patrick Johnson's Australian record of 9.93."
"It's a very strong national record, but you know I wouldn't be training six days a week if I didn't see myself achieving that."
On Saturday night he gets that chance on his home track in Sydney, where he'll run at the Australian Track and Field Championships.
"Well, I haven't lost a race yet this season, so I don't want to start that at the National Championships," he says.
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"I'm there to win my first national title."
Having it all … in under 10 seconds
In athletics terms, Browning is still relatively young at 23 years old.
"The best sprinters in the world are often at their best around that 25 through to 29 region, so I'm still in the developmental stage of my career," he says.
"It's something that takes time, it's like a matter of getting your 10,000 hours."
Browning talks about ironing out the imperfections — running on autopilot, a state where everything clicks into place without thought.
"So, you know, for me the perfect race will feel like total automation. And I think that the clock will reflect that, starting with a nine point …"
Leaving the last two digits unspoken could mean anything, but could also put him amongst the very best in the world.
"I'm definitely impatient by nature, so I want to try and have it all now, but I just have to recognise that it takes time."
Reaching the 'red-line'
The people at the Olympic Stadium watching Rohan Browning run will see a finely tuned athlete perform at what he calls the red-line.
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"When you're out on the track you don't want it to look laboured, you want it to look smooth and fluid," he says.
What people don't see is the pain.
That speed and fluidity doesn't just happen — there's a price to pay.
He trains six days a week, sometimes twice a day for anywhere between three to five hours.
And that training can include lactic sessions, where Browning has to run multiple 300 metres at top pace until his body is screaming.
"It feels like it's pure pain, complete physical inability," he describes.
"I think it's actually a lot like being heavily inebriated. To the point of feeling ill.
"Once the lactic acid reaches a certain point in your bloodstream, it's everywhere. You get the lactic headache, you know, that's when you might have to stick a couple fingers down your throat behind a tree. That's how you deal with it."
He describes that training as "a real test of character and heart more than anything else".
"I think that the people who can do well in this sport are the ones who can find some sort of enjoyment in that you know, not in a sadistic way, but just in understanding that that's what it takes to try and improve," he says.
"I had a mate and a training partner whose dentist wasn't impressed because the enamel of his teeth was eroding because of all the lactic sessions he'd done and the number of times he'd spent, you know, bent over, throwing up.
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"It's a test of pushing yourself to your own physical limit, nobody else can take you there."
Lining up against the best
Where it takes Browning is the Tokyo Olympics and a chance to test himself against the fastest men in the world.
Because of COVID-19, his family and friends won't be there. The stadium could yet be empty, but Browning isn't bothered.
"Well, I have no preconceptions about what an Olympics should look or feel like and I think that's an advantage for me," he says.
"You know, for veterans who were going to go to the Olympics with potentially no fans or certainly no international fans, I think that will, that'll be damaging for people — I think mentally that will take a toll."
It will be a very unusual Olympic games — athletes will only arrive five days before they compete and leave two days after.
The normal fun and frolics of life in the Olympic Village are out of bounds, which leaves Browning with one regret.
"I've heard the parties are great," he laughs.
"I don't know, maybe it'd be more problematic for the swimmers than the rest of us.
"It would be nice to be able to spend a bit of time in Tokyo afterwards and just unwind after many years of strenuous training, but you know, I can always come back to Sydney and just enjoy it with my mates and my family.
"Ultimately you have to make a performance-based outcome and, you know, that's just part of being professional."
Just another box to tick.
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