Kyle Greaux in the 200m at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 (© Getty Images)
The journey of each elite athlete is preciously unique – and this is particularly true of world 200m finalist Kyle Greaux.
Aged 23 at the time and working in aviation security at the Piarco International Airport in Trinidad, during one shift he ran into the Trinidad & Tobago 2011 World Championships squad travelling to Daegu, which included an old acquaintance, 400m sprinter Deon Lendore.
Both hailing from rural north-east Trinidad, this chance meeting reignited Greaux’s sprinting ambitions which had lay dormant for the best part of a decade.
“I thought athletes were meant to be bigger and stronger in stature but Deon just looked like this small, scrawny guy,” explains Greaux of Lendore, who has since become a good friend.
“He grew up about a 30-minute drive from my house and he was doing something I had dreamt of when I was younger,” he adds. “Seeing him sparked a desire in me. It was like, wow, I should go back training again.”
Fast forward eight-and-a-half years and Greaux (pronounced gri-o) is currently ranked among the world’s top 10 200m sprinters, a sub-20-second performer and a 200m medal contender for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
His intriguing re-entry point into athletics was just that: a re-entry. Growing up in the town of Sangre Grande, he had physical attributes to excel as his father, Vernie, was a former national standard 400m, 800m and 1500m runner.
Born the eldest of two children and a naturally agile and playful child, his energetic nature was spotted at the age of six by his primary school teacher who encouraged him to try athletics. He quickly discovered an ability to run fast and his physical gift enabled Greaux to excel at table tennis, tennis, cricket, football and basketball.
However, at the age of 12 or 13, his father became concerned that Greaux’s sporting pursuits were distracting him from his academic goals and he quit athletics.
“I couldn’t balance all sports,” he says. “I was more or less forced to stop competing in athletics (by my father), although track and field was always my first love.”
For the next decade his athletics ambitions were supressed until that passion was reawakened after running into Lendore, and Greaux joined a small training group in late 2011.
Expecting to make an instant impact, Greaux was, however, given a stark wake-up call into life as an athlete.
“To my surprise, it (sprinting) was a lot more difficult than I expected,” he admits with a chuckle. “In my head I was preparing to compete at the 2012 Olympic Trials to qualify for the Olympics but back then I was running around 22 seconds (for 200m). I wasn’t very flexible, I was not hydrated (sufficiently) or strong enough in the gym. I was injured and missed the (2012) trials but I did go to watch and told myself, ‘next year I want to make the national team’.”
He was true to his word, but only after making some significant changes. Based out of Port of Spain, he joined the prominent Abilene Wildcats Track Club where he was coached by three-time Olympic 400m sprinter Charles Joseph and was quickly transformed.
Training alongside Lendore and 2017 world 200m bronze medallist Jereem Richards, and despite combining working as a construction labourer with his athletics commitments, he thrived in the quality training environment and emerged a transformed athlete in 2013.
He slashed more than half a second from his PB at the National Championships to finish second in 20.57, unexpectedly qualifying for the World Championships in Moscow.
“So much went into making the start line for the national trials, I was working in a labour intensive job and I didn’t want all my hard work to be in vain,” he says. “I felt like making the national team would make a difference in my life and it did. But to run 20.57 blew my mind.”
Greaux exited the World Championships in the first round, placing sixth in his heat in 20.89, but simply representing his country at a major event meant that he had achieved a childhood dream. He was now determined to improve upon this display.
A back injury marred further development in 2014 and he was disappointed to be eliminated in the 200m semi-finals at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. He clipped 0.15 from his lifetime best to win the 2015 national 200m title in 20.42, but later that season he was left frustrated at the World Championships in Beijing when failing to advance beyond the first-round heats in 20.51.
“For me, 2015 was a stressful year,” he recalls. “I had three years’ experience in the sport and I had hoped to make the final. But I wasn’t yet ready to run sub-20.”
But in 2016 it was more of the same. Running in the same heat as Usain Bolt, Greaux was eliminated in the first round at the Rio Olympics.
Determined to improve, he sought change by joining Lance Brauman’s group in Orlando, Florida, through what he describes as an “orchestrated coincidence” in March 2017.
“A friend, Keston Bledman (9.86 100m sprinter) and I had the plan that I join the group, although I hadn’t asked (the question) as such,” he explains. “I basically just showed up, Lance said if you are in town for a bit you can train with us and three years down the line, I’m still training here!”
Training under Brauman alongside the likes of world 200m champion Noah Lyles, 2009 world silver medallist Alonso Edward of Panama and 2017 world 4x100m champion Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake of Great Britain has been a hugely positive experience, but adapting to his training philosophy took time.
“When I was in Trinidad & Tobago we did a high volume of sprint training, but Lance is a lot more focused on the technical work, so some days I would come to training and it would feel like I was not doing much running,” he explains. “But he corrected my form and sprinting dynamics and it has made a huge different physically and psychologically.”
In his first season under Brauman’s guidance, he blasted to a PB of 20.19 to finish second – 0.04 behind Richards – at the Trinidad & Tobago Championships.
But, still a relative novice to the sport, a lack of self-belief cost Greaux at the 2017 World Championships in London as he exited the semi-finals in eighth place, missing out on his goal of qualifying for the final.
The 2018 campaign saw more progress. He placed a solid sixth in the Commonwealth 200m final before setting a PB of 19.97 – and finally smashing through the 20-second barrier – in the semi-finals of the Central American and Caribbean Games in Barranquilla, Colombia. Even that wasn’t completely plain sailing, though, as Greaux was hospitalised later that night with a reaction to a dust allergy, which he believes was picked up at the newly constructed Athletes’ Village. Thankfully he was able to re-emerge the next day to take bronze in 20.26.
Despite dealing with a persistent knee cartilage issue, Greaux put together a decent body of work in 2019. He posted a season’s best of 20.18 for second at his National Championships and breezed through the rounds of the World Championships, winning his heat (20.19) and placing second in his semi-final (20.24) before placing eighth in what was his first global championships final. He was far from satisfied with the campaign, though.
“I sustained a knee injury in late March and it affected my performance,” he says. “I was in tremendous pain, I lost a month of training and had some setbacks. I had hoped to win a medal, and although I made my first World Championship final, I was extremely disappointed with the result.”
Aged 31 but with his championship performances improving with age, the late starter – or perhaps that should be ‘re-starter’ – to the sport could well feature as a podium contender in Tokyo.
He is aware he needs to work more on his bend running, but he is nonetheless still brimming with ambition for the future.
“I’m coming off a season with a burning desire to succeed,” he says. “I wanted a World Championships medal (in Doha) and I was unable to do so, but there were some successes.”
Yet beyond medals and PBs, Greaux runs for the sheer exhilaration.
“There is something about the power you need as an athlete to sustain top speed that makes me feel alive,” he explains. “As a child to be let loose to run at speed was extremely exciting for me, and I still feel that today.”
Steve Landells for World Athletics