Hakim Sani Brown in the 200m at the IAAF World Youth Championships Cali 2015 (© Getty Images)
Ahead of the forthcoming IAAF World U18 Championships Nairobi 2017, we focus on the memories of athletes who have competed in past editions of the event. In the latest in our series, we catch up Japan’s Hakim Sani Brown, who stormed to the 100m-200m sprint double at the 2015 edition in Cali, Colombia.
There was a high expectation that Hakim Sani Brown could be one of the star performers at the 2015 World U18 Championships. Leading into the event, the 16-year-old sprint prodigy had been creating waves with a series of outstanding performances. Times of 10.30 for the 100m and 20.56 for the 200m marked him down as world No.1 in the U18 age group and pre-event favourite for both sprints.
Sani Brown himself struggles to explain why he was in such a rich vein of form that year, but he was looking forward to the challenge ahead.
“I don’t exactly know (why I was running so well) but one thing I know is that I always believed in myself and that means always giving my best,” he says.
In terms of his expectation for Cali he adopted a simple philosophy.
“Let’s just do it! My aim was to stay focused and give my very best.”
As soon as he arrived in Colombia with a quality Japanese team (which went on to win five medals and finish third in the overall medal table) Sani Brown was excited.
“The street scene and cityscape in Cali was different and so was the weather and the people,” he says. “I come from a big crowded city in Tokyo so coming to Cali, a Latin American city, was filled with wonder.”
With a rice-rich diet similar to what he was used to in his homeland he adapted seamlessly to the Colombian food culture and by the time he took to the blocks for his opening round heat of the 100m he said he was “more excited than ever before.”
He was right to feel excited. In his first round heat he equalled his PB and trimmed 0.01 from the championship record to 10.30 and then precisely matched this time in his semi-final – despite sprinting into a 1.2m/s headwind.
“I just focused on one event at a time and I still achieved my best despite the wind not being in my favour,” Sani Brown adds.
As comfortably the quickest of the qualifiers he went into the 100m final as overwhelming favourite and did not disappoint. He held a clear advantage at 40m and simply accelerated clear of his age-group rivals to strike gold in a new PB and championship record of 10.28.
“I felt really great when I crossed the finishing line and when I saw the time I was really pleased,” adds Sani Brown, who was also inspired by the support he received from his team.
“We all cheered as one team when someone was competing and we supported each other through the whole event,” he says. “When on the track, even though I was focused on the task ahead, I knew my team-mates were rooting for me and that gave me extra strength.”
His next challenge was to prepare for the 200m – and become the first boy in ten years to complete the sprint double at these championships – but is was no straight forward task to switch his focus to the half-lap event.
“The heats were tough (her ran 21.19 to win) on the body because I felt tired, but I had to have the confidence to continue to improve and achieve more.”
Sani-Brown started to rediscover his rhythm with a 20.62 clocking in his semi-final to top the qualifiers for the medal race. There complete in snazzy green rimmed sunglasses the Japanese sprinter ate up the distance and stopped the clock in 20.34 – to set a new PB and lowering Usain Bolt’s championship record by 0.06.
“At first I couldn’t believe it when I saw the time, I didn’t know I could run that fast, he recalls. “It gave me the belief I could possibly compete at the (2015) Beijing World Championships.”
Later celebrating his success with a family dinner back in Tokyo, Sani Brown has nothing but happy memories of the 2015 event.
“The crowds were incredible, the competition was well run and the music was awesome,” he said. “It was an amazing experience to compete overseas in a world-class event.
“I experienced a lot at World Youths (U18) and since I have started to think about competing globally. You could say (competing in Cali) was a life-changing experience. It made me think deeply that I could build a career out of athletics.”
The following month San Brown competed at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing where he reached the 200m semi-finals. Last year he lowered his 100m PB to 10.22 and earlier this year sped to a time of 10.18 in Azuza.
For anyone competing at the 2017 IAAF World U18 Championships Sani Brown has a simple message.
“Enjoy the race, enjoy the crowd, enjoy the country and just have fun!”
Steve Landells for the IAAF