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Abdul Hakim Sani Brown races ahead with confident showing at nationals

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

His demeanor already stood out before the race.

While other sprinters came in and headed to their own starting blocks twice as quickly moments before the men’s 100-meter final — the main event of the four-day competition — Abdul Hakim Sani Brown walked in leisurely — and majestically.

It was as if the 20-year-old was already the king of Japanese track.

“I no longer get too nervous (during races),” Sani Brown said innocently after the race, in which he displayed a convincing victory with a Japan National Championships record of 10.02.

In the end, the meet — which wrapped up on Sunday at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium — was all about Sani Brown. He conquered the 100 and 200 with dominant performances, clinching berths for this fall’s IAAF World Championships in Doha.

Sani Brown had already achieved the two-for-two feat in 2017 when he was still a high school student athlete. Two years later, he was bigger, stronger and more confident.

Of course, Sani Brown is already the fastest man in the 100 that the country has ever produced. He set a new national record of 9.97 seconds at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Austin, Texas earlier in June.

But observing how he competed and conducted himself in front of the media through the nationals, the youngster seems to genuinely have the potential to be not just the fastest, but the most globally competitive sprinter Japan has ever seen.

Physically, it is quite evident that Sani Brown has gotten stronger. The University of Florida sophomore is no longer the tall, lanky boy he was in high school. He is now equipped with muscles that have given him strength and stability to compete in both the 100 and 200 competitions.

After the 100 final, the science committee of the Japan Association of Athletics Federations revealed intriguing data about the top three finishers — Sani Brown, Yoshihide Kiryu and Yuki Koike.

According to the committee, Sani Brown’s stride during the race reached as long as 2.51 meters — an improvement from 2.46 meters in the 2017 edition — and his maximum velocity was 11.57 meters per second, while Kiryu’s biggest stride was 2.29 meters and his max speed was 11.38 m/s. The stats offered a glimpse at Sani Brown’s development as an athlete.

What is promising is that Sani Brown appears to have grown mentally as well, having trained while surrounded by top-notch college athletes and coaches in Gainesville, Florida, since the fall of 2017.

In comments to the press corps at the nationals, Sani Brown said little about his long-term goals. Instead he focused on what he could do in the moment.

After his 200 heat on Saturday, for instance, Sani Brown was asked if he would be able to shoot for the national record in the next day’s final. The Fukuoka Prefecture native responded with a slight mile, saying “maybe I could do it, if I do what I’m supposed to do.”

The poor weather was too high an obstacle to overcome for the 188-cm sprinter to set a new national record. But there was no negativity to be found in Sani Brown’s comments. Instead, he said he “enjoyed” the competitions regardless of the results, leaving a strong impression that he is in a healthy state of mind training and competing in the United States.

Antwan Wright, a voluntary assistant coach for the Florida Gators track and field team who accompanied Sani Brown at the nationals, said that the Japanese sprinter has believed in the program as well as its coaches and staff at the Gators’ track team, making it possible for him to stay focused.

“We have to keep our daily routine,” Wright said when asked what the athlete would have to work on going forward. “Not to say that he’s not doing a good job, but things can always get better. Moving forward, we’ve got a long way ahead of us and got a lot of business to take care of when we get back to Florida.”

Wright insisted that Sani Brown, who was born to a Japanese mother and Ghanian father, is now more determined and committed than he had been in the past.

“His drive to be the best has definitely improved,” Wright said. “He knows what he has to do. He’s willing to do what it takes to get to where he wants to be. That’s one thing I can definitely say that he’s improved since I first met him.”

Still, Sani Brown remains a “work in progress.” He is far from content with his status of being Japan’s fastest. He has bigger dreams, such as international stardom and winning medals at global tournaments such as the world championships and the Olympics.

But at nationals, Sani Brown simply felt thrilled to have traveled his current path and lucky show his progress to the people of his home country.

“I’ve been able to prove that being in an environment where I could challenge myself at different things has paid off,” said Sani Brown, who won gold in the 100 and 200 events at the 2015 IAAF World Youth Championships in Cali, Colombia. “And I’ve been able to send a message to younger Japanese athletes like high school students that it’s important to work hard in various environments, including outside the country.”

Sani Brown, who at 18 years old advanced to the 200 final at the 2017 World Championships in London, is motivated to train hard in order to achieve big things at worlds in Qatar. He also looks forward to potentially being able to help Japan succed at the 4×100 relay.

JAAF development director Kazunori Asaba said at a post-tournament news conference that Sani Brown had plenty to offer fans despite coming up short for any national records.

“He ran in 10.02 in the 100,” Asaba said. “That’s despite the (weather) conditions, the humidity and running into the winds (0.3 m/s). I think his performance was as good as when he ran 9.97, or maybe even better. So we can expect positive things from him at the World Championships.”