Before he stunned the world with a blistering race in Tokyo, Australia’s fastest man was more recogniseable for his flowing mane than his sprinting prowess.
Now mullet-sporting Rohan Browning has the chance to do what no Australian has done in 65 years and make the final of the Olympic 100m sprint.
Ranked 32nd in the world going into Tokyo, Browning made history on Saturday night when he ran the fastest time by an Australian at an Olympics, leaving one of the gold medal favourites, Jamaica’s Yohan Blake, in his wake.
He clocked a personal-best 10.01 seconds and moved to second on the Australian all-time list and the equal fifth fastest time going into the semi-finals.
On Sunday night, the 23-year-old law student from Sydney hopes to become the first Australian athlete since 1954 to qualify for the event.
Browning’s rise to the top shouldn’t be a surprise to those who have followed his career closely in recent years.
Rohan Browning shocked the world by winning his 100m heat on Saturday night
Born in Sydney, Browning grew up playing soccer and rugby before turning his attention to athletics at age 13.
Browning first burst onto the international scene in 2017, where he was part of Australia’s men’s 4x100m relay at the world titles.
Browning competed at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast a year later, where he narrowly missed the 100m final by an agonising 0.001 seconds and went viral afterwards with a heartfelt tweet.
‘I think I am Australia’s most pitied man right now… but I don’t want to be. Fractions of a sec are what separate people in this sport and that’s what makes it beautiful,’ Browning posted at the time.
In 2019, he became the first Australian in more than a decade to compete in the men’s 100m at the world championships.
He is trained by Andrew Murphy, a former Australian triple jumper who competed at three Olympics.
Rohan Browning (pictured with mum Liz) studies law at University of Sydney
Earlier this year, Browning became the second Australian man to run the 100m in under 10 seconds when he ran a wind-assisted time of 9.96 seconds at the Illawarra Track Challenge.
Browning’s time was the fourth fastest in Australian history, with the top three finishes recorded by former indigenous sprinter Patrick Johnson.
‘I think my eldest son just became the first non-Indigenous Australian to run 100m in under 10 secs. Can’t quite believe it,’ Browning’s proud mum Liz Jackson tweeted following her son’s race.
But the tweet caused an uproar online.
‘This is a really racist tweet,’ one person replied.
‘Please correct this and apologise for putting this out there and please, please learn from your mistake and why this is so harmful.’
Ms Jackson defended her wording of the tweet, saying it was far from being racist.
‘Not racist at all. In fact quite the opposite. This tweet was an acknowledgement of just how good our Indigenous athletes are,’ she responded.
Browning booked his spot on the Olympic team in April when he won the national title in a blistering 10.05 seconds and celebrated post-race with his first beer in months.
‘I haven’t been pushed this year like I would have liked and COVID has made it really tough to go overseas and find competition,’ Browning told Nine newspapers recently.
His coach added: ‘In terms of what has happened so far I think it has paid off. The training has been exceptional. He is in PB shape. I could not ask for any more other than more competition but that came at a cost having to traipse over to Europe and the concern with illness.’
Browning juggles athletics with studying a combined arts and law degree at University of Sydney and lists debating, public speaking reading, cooking, and playing guitar as his hobbies, according to his Athletics Australia profile.
Rohan Browning (left) celebrated his spot on the Olympic team earlier this year. He’s pictured with Australian Bendere Oboya
Rohan Browning (left) after the 100 metres at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, where he finished ninth and missed the final by 0.01 seconds
He describes Murphy as the biggest influence on his career and hails his mum Liz and dad Ron as his heroes.
‘My parents, they taught me about working hard and having the highest standards ethically,’ his Athletics Australia profile states.
James Browning posted a heartfelt tribute last week, describing Rohan as one of the most dedicated and hard-working blokes he’s ever met and ‘the best big brother I could ask for’.
‘Since I was a little kid I’ve always looked up to him,’ he posted on Facebook.
‘He always had my back and served as a role model for me. No matter his training load or wherever in the world he is, Ro always has time to pick up the phone and take my call.’
He recalled how his heartbroken brother vowed to do better after coming so close in lining up in the men’s final at the Commonwealth Games three years ago.
‘I sat there in the crowd and felt gutted because I knew how much blood, sweat and tears he had put into getting to those Games,’ James continued.
‘But he kept his head up, downed a few beers with me and dad and moved on. That’s what he does.’
James is proud of his big brother, regardless of what happens on Sunday night.
‘I am gutted that we can’t be there to support you, Ro, but best believe we are going to be behind you all 10 seconds of your race,’ he wrote.
‘I’ve witnessed the sacrifice, the hardship and the successes; I just know you’re gonna do your family and your country proud.’
He followed up the tribute with another post hours before his brother’s semi.
‘Get around him,’ he captioned footage of Browning’s win in the heats.
Rohan Browning (right) is coached by three-time Olympian Andrew Murphy (left)
Browning opted not to travel overseas and test himself against the top runners in the world this year, which is why his win in the heats shocked his rivals
One of the hot favourites to win gold in Tokyo, Blake looked astonished to have beaten by the Australian he didn’t see coming in lane one in Saturday night’s heat.
The 2012 Olympic silver medallist took a quick glance across at Browning as his opponent crossed the finish line ahead of him.
Seconds later, a stunned Blake was filmed by television cameras grimacing and shrugging his shoulders following the surprise defeat.
‘Yohan Blake has looked across and you know what he’s thought, ‘Who is that in lane one? I’ve been beaten by an Australian’! Yes, you have Yohan Blake,’ former Olympian Tamsyn Manou said in Channel 7 coverage.
Co-commentator Bruce McAvaney was just as excited. ‘Boy oh boy. We’ve got one! We’ve found one,’ he said.
Browning was out of the blocks quickly and never looked like being beaten.
The humble Australian used his 15 seconds in the spotlight to issue a passionate plea for millions of viewers holed up in lockdown back home.
Browning left the likes of 2011 world champion Yohan Blake from Jamaica in his wake as he stopped the clock at 10.01 seconds
‘Hopefully I’ve put a few people on notice now,’ Browning told reporters post-race.
‘It feels good. If I can take one thing away from it, it’s that Australia, don’t go out on anti-vax protests, stay home and get around the underdogs at the Olympics.’
Blake, 31, finished second behind fellow countryman Usain Bolt in the 100 and 200m double in 2012 in London and failed to make the podium in either event four years later in Rio.
The semi-finals will begin at 8.15pm Sunday night with eight progressing to the final two hours later at 10.50pm.
Former Olympic sprinter Matt Shirvington believes Browning could be on the medal podium on Sunday night if he can shave another 0.05 seconds of his personal best and go under 10 seconds.
‘If Rohan can find 0.05, he is going to be in the mix for sure,’ Shirvington told Sunrise on Sunday.
No Australian man has qualified for an Olympic 100m final since Hec Hogan won bronze in Melbourne in 1956, a feat now well within Browning’s reach if he can replicate this run in the semis on Sunday.
‘There’s more to pull out of myself. I can definitely be pushed a bit more,’ Browning told Channel Seven post-race.
‘It’s the one thing I’ve probably been lacking on the Australian circuit. I’ve been patient this year.
‘I’ve just been training and racing in Australia and I’ve been dying for a bit of world-class competition.
”I had a look at the start list when the heats came out and I thought ‘geez I’ve got one of the stiffest heats.
‘But you’d rather do it the hard way because it’s much more satisfying that way and you’ve got to front up to everyone at some point.’
The only Australian to have clocked a faster legal time was Patrick Johnson, who ran 9.93 back in 2003