Donavan Brazier celebrates winning the Men's 800-meter final at the 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 on Oct. 1, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.
When world champion Donavan Brazier lined up for the start of his first outdoor 800-meter race of the season at the end of last month he couldn’t have been more thankful.
Sure, the high school track in Newberg, Oregon, was a far cry from the stadium in Doha, Qatar, where he last raced outside and became the first American to win a world title at the distance. But that was OK.
It was at least a race, and he knew others were to follow.
“It was definitely just really anxious and antsy because I’ve been racing since middle school and most of these guys have been racing for the majority of their lives,” Brazier said. “We didn’t know if we were going to have a season.”
Finally, the drastically shortened 2020 track and field season gets underway in earnest this week. After a couple of virtual versions of Diamond League events, with athletes competing remotely, the prestigious series will hold its first in-person races Friday in Monaco, and Brazier is one of several U.S. athletes who will be front and center.
“A month ago or two months ago we didn’t think this would happen,” said Brazier, 23. “I think all the athletes here are grateful to finally be racing Diamond League.”
When most fans last saw Brazier it was 10 months ago at the IAAF World Championships.
Brazier, who failed to make the 800-meter final at the 2017 world championships, finished with a time of 1 minute, 42.34 seconds in Doha. He not only won the gold medal but also set a new world championships and U.S. record time, besting Johnny Gray’s 34-year-old mark of 1:42.60. It also positioned Brazier, then 22, as the one to beat heading into the 2020 Olympic year.
Fast-forwarding to February, Brazier was right where he wanted to be as he broke his own U.S. indoor record in the 800-meter at the Millrose Games in New York while following an instruction from coach Pete Julian to position himself in the middle of the pack to work on his tactical racing and test his kick.
Then in March everything was put on indefinite hold.
As meets were canceled and the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 delayed until 2021, Julian stressed with the elite group of runners he trains that they had to keep working. They had to act as if it were a world championships or Olympic year even though they didn’t know when or if their next race might happen.
“At times you’re kind of looking at training and having to do these sessions where you have to dig deep and your mind almost doesn’t want to dig deep because you can’t fathom if you’re actually going to have a race in your near future,” said Brazier, a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, who competed collegiately for Texas A&M. “Sometimes it’s hard to find that motivation, but this is the time where it really does show true passion and ambition for the sport when you’re able to train when you don’t know what’s in sight and you’re just doing it because you enjoy doing it. I found a passion and enjoyment doing it just because of the group, the coach and the team around me.”
Brazier ran a 1:43.84 at the Big Friendly 3 meet in Newberg on July 31, and said he was grateful for the tuneup because it was almost like he forgot how to run the 800-meter and how much it hurts at the end. Now, he said, he’s one of the few athletes going into this Friday’s Diamond League matchup with a personal best this season.
The field for the 800-meter includes Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Amel Tuka and Kenya’s Ferguson Cheruiyot Rotich, who won silver and bronze, respectively, at last year’s world championships, as well as American Bryce Hoppel, who was fourth.
“I think it’s just more exciting than anything because no one really knows where we’re at and we’re all just so grateful to have the season that we’re having with this short little season that no matter what the outcome is for any of the athletes I think we’re finally just happy to be racing,” Brazier said.
Getting to Monaco was in itself a bit of a challenge, Brazier said. In addition to the coronavirus testing they had to do before racing back in the states, they had to do two tests before traveling out of Portland, Oregon, and had to provide paperwork to the government of Monaco stating that they had tested negative. They also had to state that they would be staying in Monaco and remain for a period of time before heading elsewhere.
Brazier is also scheduled to race in Stockholm and Budapest, Hungary, before returning to the U.S in September.
Joining him in Monaco are sprinter Noah Lyles, the world champion in the 200-meter; world champion Grant Holloway racing in the 110-meter hurdles; and Olympic bronze medalist and two-time reigning world champion pole vaulter Sam Kendricks.
Coverage will be available on the Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Gold beginning at 2 p.m. ET on Friday.