Donavan Brazier at the 2015 Brooks PR Invite (© John Jefferson)
Texas A&M freshman Donavan Brazier caught the eye when he broke the 34-year-old US junior indoor 800m record with a 1:45.93 clocking earlier this month. Members of his coaching team say it's only the beginning.
High School star
Described as possessing “a mind-boggling” range from 400m to the mile (he has a 45.9 4x400m relay split and recent 4:07 mile) it was obvious that Donavan Brazier had a very special set of talents even when still a high school athlete, according to Steve Underwood, director of media and public relations at the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation.
“I didn't see Donavan in person until the state meet of his junior year , when he lowered his PR from 1:52.74 to 1:50.24,” Underwood says of Brazier, who competed for Kenowa Hills High School out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. “I got the impression he didn't quite grasp right away the gravity of the performance and that he was suddenly a top national championship contender.
“But he certainly grasped it in the following two weeks to be able to make another big jump to 1:48.61 and win our New Balance Nationals Outdoor 800. He won both races with negative splits and good strategic smarts.
“I think it was clear to all who watched him that he had a great combo of speed and endurance that could lend itself to great performances, and those very close to him realised he might have all-time greatness.”
Aggie, Aggie, Aggie
Texas A&M University became the lucky recipient of Brazier’s gifts as he began his student career there last autumn. It is a proud school that has snared four (they shared with Florida State in 2013) NCAA Division 1 men’s team titles since 2009. The rising middle-distance star will unquestionably benefit from being part of such a strong team dynamic.
“He’s team orientated and although he knows about the individuality of track, he also wants to be on a team which has recognition,” explains Texas A&M track and field head coach Pat Henry.
The 18-year-old will also benefit from the quality facilities and support staff at the College Station-based university. “We have a good nutritional centre and a nutritionist that works with him,” adds Henry. “Of course, he is young and can still make mistakes in his eating, but all the correct things are here to educate him.”
Proud to be an Aggie! pic.twitter.com/NVbnKGx902— Donavan Brazier (@DonavanBrazier) November 16, 2014
Brazier is being coached by two-time world indoor 400m champion Alleyne Francique. The Grenadian, who placed fourth in the 2004 Olympic 400m final, knows all about the demands of performing at the highest level.
“Francique has a great demeanour and is very demanding, as any great one is,” admits Henry. “A lot of great athletes don’t know how to coach, but Francique is one of those athletes who has a good eye and a good feel for coaching.”
Brazier’s training group is top quality. He has a couple of 1:50/1:51 athletes, a 1:49 performer and 1:47 man – Hector Hernandez of Puerto Rico – to train alongside every day. Brazier himself has an outdoor PB of 1:47.55.
“It is important, though not absolutely essential, to have a good training group,” says Henry. “These guys laugh and have a good time every day and this makes for a happier and more fun environment.”
Running between 25-30 miles a week, the philosophy at Texas A&M is not to hit its half-milers with cross country-style training but to work on quality miles. Brazier is far from overworked as his college allow a gradual, mature approach to development.
“He’s not even done any serious speedwork yet,” says Henry. “He’s run a couple of 4x400m relays but not really any serious 200s [or] 300s in training.”
Many have asked which distance Brazier is best suited to. Henry believes it is far too early to tell.
“We are still learning about him because we have only worked with him from a training standpoint for four months,” he admits.
"Donavan Brazier hands down. Scary fast!" – Nick Symmonds when asked about the best up-and-coming US 800m runners
You’re so naive
Described a “level-headed kid” by coach Francique, Brazier seems in little danger of allowing any attention to go to his head.
“I try to keep him grounded because he has not accomplished anything yet,” says Francique of his teenage protege.
Henry refers to Brazier as “very quiet, very well mannered and well spoken”, and he also believes he possesses an endearing naivety.
“He said after his 1:45 run that one of his goals was to make the travel team, which might seem an odd statement, but it shows the youth in the young man,” says Henry. “He is really unaware of how good he is.”
Hips don’t lie
Coach Francique says Brazier is the “complete package”, possessing great speed and endurance. Henry is impressed by the teenager’s work ethic and physical gifts.
“He is a tall man for a half-miler, thin with nice thin hips,” he adds. “He lifts like a quarter miler. His hips are nice and tall all the time. These are great attributes you like to see as a coach.”
Underwood says of Brazier: “He's extremely smooth, with above-average, often effortless-looking form, having both a long stride and quick turnover. It seems like he has many of the attributes of the all-time greats.”
Scope for improvement
Still running low mileage and only a freshman, Brazier’s potential for improvement is frightening. His support team are already working hard on fixing his weaknesses.
“We are trying to improve his posture and get him to relax more and drop his shoulders when he runs,” says Henry. “He is trying to get a little stronger in the weight room.”
His future, according to Underwood, is hugely exciting.
“He certainly seems to have the potential to run 1:44 this year and 1:42 or perhaps even better in the next few years. One hesitates to make bold predictions because you see so many athletes never reach what we think is their potential for many different reasons. But Donavan's combination of speed, strength, great form, and ability to perform off different paces, bodes extremely well for his chances to eventually become an Olympic or world championship medal contender.”
Photography: John Jefferson