But not Brown, the best quarter-miler in the world who won't wrap himself in the Stars and Stripes should he visit the medal stand. Brown is relaxation personified, as if the beach culture of Eleuthera, the tiny Bahamian island where he grew up, is oozing from his innards, and out the flopping mini-dreads that make him look like he's hiding in a weeping willow when he turns sideways.
Brown casts a half-nod here and there as he passes familiar sprinters, and when
To get a sense of just how dominant the U.S. has been in the 400, it helps to do a little bean counting. If the gold medal counts as a win, and everything else as a loss, the U.S. is 17-4 all time in the 4x400-meter relay. Only Kenya, in 1972, has beaten the U.S. relay since 1956.
Twelve different American runners have produced the top 66 performances all time in the one-lapper. The top non-American time ever, coming in at 67th, is a 44.10, run in 2006 by Kikaya.
The International Association of Athletics Federations, track's governing body, recently scrapped the 4x400-meter relay world record - 2:54.20 -- that the U.S. set in 1998, because one member of the team,
Considered as a historical unit, even with some performances revoked for doping, American quarter-milers may be the most dominant team in any sport, ever.
At the Athens Olympics, U.S. runners swept the 400, and they swept again last summer at Worlds in Osaka. This year, American runners enter the Games ranked first (
Brown has experience in attempting what nobody has done before. In 2000, he took the baton for the last lap of the Olympic 4x400 in second place, 20 meters behind American
Don't believe him. Chris Brown would've chased Michael Johnson no matter what, because that's what Chris Brown does. He looks for the biggest challenge on the biggest stage. That's how he came to quarter-mile'ing in the first place.
Back when he was in high school in Eleuthera, an island of about 7,000 people, he was a half-miler and miler. (His 1:49.54 run a decade ago is still the Bahamian record.) Things changed when he started coming to Nassau, the Bahamian capital, for races. Brown would look up into the stands before his middle distance races, and noticed that "everybody going to get hotdogs and use the bathroom and find drinks and eat pizza," he says, "and nobody checkin' for me." When the 100 and 200 came around, the stands would be full again. "Everybody would be trying to peep in the gate or break their neck trying to see who was running the hot events," Brown says. And Brown wanted that stage, to compete against "those fellas who was enjoying the crowd," he says. So when he transferred to a high school in Nassau for his senior year, Brown focused on the sprints, and the 400 in particular, looking to infuse it with the same excitement that brought Bahamian fans back to their seats for the short sprints.
Brown says he's already recognized everywhere he goes in the islands, and a sprint gold is the kind of thing that gets a life-sized Chris Brown hanging from light poles in Nassau. (It happened for the Golden Girls).
But with the 400 prelims beginning on Monday, there is no prediction to be found that slots anyone other than Wariner and Merritt for gold and silver. And given their recent runs, rightfully so. But Brown, with the help of a man who knows a little about displacing Americans on the medal stand, is feeling better than ever.
Starting last December, Brown came under the tutelage of
A blessing in disguise for Brown. Egbunike, whose Georgia-based training group includes U.S. 400-meter hurdler and Sydney gold-medalist
As free and relaxed as he is, though, Brown knows that this is the most pivotal moment of his athletic career. His mother,