ALPINE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — With the track he used to own directly behind him, Donavan Brazier stood in the bleachers at the Kenowa Hills Football Stadium.
As a 2015 Knight graduate, Brazier broke his own meet record in the 800-meter in the Division I state finals as a senior in 1:49.98 seconds. On top of that, he set school records in the 400 (47.96), 1,600 (4:07.15), the 4×400 (3:21.88) and the 4×800 relay teams (7:50.46).
Fast forward to 2019, and the Grand Rapids native now finds himself apart of the Nike Oregon Project, racing to be a part of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
On Sunday, Brazier earned a trip to the IAAF World Athletics Championships with a win at the 800 finals in the Toyota USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa. His final time was 1:45.21.
>>Photos: Donavan Brazier wins U.S. championship
When he crossed the finish line with his fists clenched, the 22-year-old still thought about the place where it all started, just off 4 Mile Road and Hendershot Avenue.
“It’s like building blocks,” Brazier said with a grin. “My first block was here with Coach (Kevin) Winne and Kenowa Hills High School, and then I stepped up to (Texas) A&M and they developed me a little bit more and now I’m with Oregon project. So it’s kind of like building blocks every year, I’m just trying to get better and better.
“Regardless, I always think about where I started from and the track here.”
While he said he wants to do his best to represent Grand Rapids, Brazier is also representing the United States of America every day. With a blue Nike T-shirt on, “USA” scripted across his chest in white block lettering, Brazier is proud to have the weight of the country watching him every race.
“It’s always been a dream of mine,” Brazier said. “I try to see the countries I’m from and have a little bit of fun with it. I try to make business a pleasure. If I’m going for a run, I don’t do all of my laps on the track. I do some sightseeing by going around town and making it somewhat more enjoyable.”
With the victory on Sunday, Brazier has won two consecutive National Championships in the 800 as a pro. The most recent one came against his training partner Clayton Murphy, who finished with a time of 1:46.01.
Brazier says there is a rivalry between the two.
“At the end of the day, I’m trying my best to beat him and he’s trying his best to beat me,” Brazier said. “It’s good to train with him because I do think we get the best out of each other.”
Brazier isn’t content with this victory, however. A trip to Tokyo is something that sits on his mind every day and his hunger is only growing.
In June of 2016, Brazier shattered Jim Ryun’s collegiate and junior American 800 record with a time of 1:43.55. Just 21 days later, Brazier skipped U.S. Juniors to compete in the Olympic Trials. He finished fourth and didn’t see another race past the first round.
When Brazier thinks back to three years ago, he sees himself as naïve. He put unneeded pressure on himself and wished he had more fun with it because that is what the sport is all about to him.
Now, he feels he has matured since that time and place, becoming a smarter runner and growing from every mistake made. After missing last season with a nagging Achilles injury, Brazier said he has been humbled and is preparing himself for everything needed to be accomplished for the Olympics in a year.
“I know I have great support here, I have great support with the Oregon Project and I know they have my back no matter what happens,” Brazier said. “I’m more tactically sound than I was at A&M. I kind of had one way of racing that was front running from the gun. Now, I’ve been able to go from the front to the back and be unpredictable in the way I race.”
The last time a U.S. athlete won a gold medal in the 800 was 1982.
“I would like to think I would be the one to break that streak,” Brazier said. “We don’t have the medal count to prove the 800s event in the United States is a dominant event for us.
“I want to help create something like the 100, the 200, the 400 where every time there is an Olympic final, people are looking out for the United States.”
As Brazier prepares for the biannual world championships from Sept. 28 to Oct. 6 in Doha, Qatar, he has the chance to be the face making that change in his event.
Stay with 24 Hour News 8 for complete coverage leading up to the Summer Games. Sports Director Jack Doles will travel to Tokyo as part of Nexstar Media Group’s Olympic coverage team and will introduce the Michigan athletes representing the U.S. throughout the year.