Rohan Browning admits he could be hiding anywhere.
It could be in what he eats for dinner, or even the vagaries of the weather.
He is so small and imperceptible that looking for him could lead to neurosis.
But it is also the main motivation for the second fastest man in Australian history.
“This” are those few hundredths of a second he needs to break the 10-second barrier in the men’s 100 meters.
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t always on my mind every time I run,” Browning told ABC Sport from his training base in Rome.
“It is, to some extent, an arbitrary marker, because the depth of the event is so strong now [that] sub-10, or 9.99, does not guarantee you will make an Olympic final.
From Imposter to Real Deal
Only one Australian has run under 10 seconds: Patrick Johnson clocked 9.93 in 2003.
Browning is now the second fastest of all time in this country after winning his round at the Tokyo Olympics last year in a sparkling 10.01 seconds.
It was one of the greatest moments of the 24-year-old’s career as the ‘flying mule’ became an instant national hero.
However, he passed out in the semi-finals, his 10.09 second run was not enough to qualify for the final.
“I was really shocked by the reaction, and it was lovely and I felt incredibly well supported,” he said.
Browning has a chance to rectify that in a few weeks, when he plays the World Championships in Athletics in the US state of Oregon and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, back to back.
It’s a chance for Browning to show how far he’s come and if he can be considered among the world’s elite racers.
And to do this, sneaking under the 10 second mark will not be enough: 20 men have already done it this year.
How do you find those hundredths of a second?
Browning worked with his trainer, Andrew Murphy, and Athletics Australia’s national biomechanics lead, Dr Emma Millet, to break down his technique and identify where he can gain even more speed.
Dr Millet says Browning’s top speed is world class, but there is room for improvement in his off-block start and acceleration over the first 30 yards.
And, in such a short race, even the smallest factor can make a huge difference.
“It may depend on what positions you hold in the blocks and how you load your blocks,” Dr. Millet said.
“And how can we tap into that feeling for Rohan, so he can execute it the same day?”
Efforts were also made to ensure Browning didn’t overstep the bounds once he got out of the blocks.
“I think he’s more than capable of running under 10,” Dr. Millet said.
“He did so well to do 10.01 and it wasn’t a perfectly executed race either, and that’s where there’s still a lot of wiggle room.
“What I focus on is trying to be as efficient as possible,” Browning said.
“So I try to apply critical thinking to everything and when I work with my coach we really try to focus on where we’re going to get the best result, rather than just glorifying hard racing, hard work, be tough all the time. We try to work smarter.
Browning is aware that he isn’t “paralyzed by data,” but he knows that making what may seem like imperceptible changes to the average observer could mean the difference between being a good runner and a great one.
And that comes with some growing pains.
He knows he hasn’t raced at his best this season, and injury and illness haven’t helped.
“This year we’ve really revamped my racing pattern to try and extend that acceleration a little bit and then get to top speed a bit later so that in the last 20 to 30 meters of the race I’m not slowing down so much,” he said.
“It makes you very error-prone, so that’s something I’m trying to master now. And I think that’s probably why I didn’t run as fast as I would have liked in some races.
“But I am convinced that, between now and the major championships, everything will be fine.”
He will face his biggest test yet in the Stockholm Diamond League this week, in a field that includes Olympic champion Lamont Marcell Jacobs of Italy.
“I think he’s one of the most technically efficient runners in the world,” Browning said.
“And that’s a big reason why he’s been able to succeed in major championships under pressure, because he’s able to maintain such a relaxed disposition.”
Dr Millet said Jacobs’ run in the Olympic final was near perfect and Browning could look to that.
“Marcell is one of those [who] you saw in Tokyo, where his ability to get out of blocks, has great top speed and not decelerating, he was able to run a really good run,” she said.
“He was a 10-second runner, then a, last season [has] went well below and managed to really execute it in the final.”
Find your “perfect day”
While 2022 hasn’t gone exactly as planned for Browning so far, he’s optimistic he can put it all together after the World Championships and Commonwealth Games.
“I want to be in the final and then I want to try [to] run the best race I know and see where that puts me in the world,” he said.
And it’s not just about collecting silverware or running under-10s.
“What I’m really focused on this year is getting my average performance down and not having those outliers,” he said.
“I want to be as consistent as possible, as unglamorous as it sounds, so I know what I’m capable of when it comes to big moments in the big leagues.
“Rather than celebrating the scintillating moments of brilliance that are just very fleeting. It’s about doing it when it counts.”
Browning is also a big proponent of balance.
For him, that includes studying law at the University of Sydney, spending time with friends and family, and playing golf, despite being an avowed hacker.
“It’s so important to decompress. It helps to get the best out of yourself on the track.”
Browning has also tapped some of Australia’s top athletes, such as Cathy Freeman and Steve Waugh, for advice along the way.
And the prospect of having a moment like Freeman’s victory in the 400m at the Sydney Olympics, or Waugh’s “perfect day” the last century of prom at the SCG is tantalizing.
“Every athlete idealizes the idea of having a moment like this in their career,” Browning said.
“There’s a Brisbane Olympics in 2032. I think I’ll be 34 by then, so I’ll see if I’m still there.
“I think the prospect of home games and [2026 regional Victoria] The Commonwealth Games definitely inspire me to keep pushing.”