"I thought I wouldn't be able to run faster if I didn't train among highly-skilled, high-level people," said Abdul Hakim Sani Brown in the spring of 2017. He made the comment just before graduating from a Japanese high school and heading to the University of Florida, which boasts many top U.S. athletes among both its student body and alumni.
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The 20-year-old rising track star and 2020 Tokyo Olympics hopeful, who became the second Japanese sprinter to join the sub-10-second club in May, has now set a new Japanese record for the men's 100 meters, clocking a time of 9.97 seconds on June 7. Such records were a result of Sani Brown's courage to train overseas, in an English-speaking country with very real cultural differences from Japan.
The graduate of Josai Senior High School in Tokyo was attracted to the Florida university's support system, which had specialists in various fields including skills and training. To improve his skills, Sani Brown found a mentor in Michael Holloway and other coaches who have trained students to become Olympic medalists. To boost his physical strength, he exercised several days a week under the direction of a strength training expert.
According to those involved in track and field, although not too intense, a weight training program enabled Sani Brown to build strength. He also began a core training program similar to the Pilates physical fitness system to gain more flexibility and range of motion, and the musculature to support such movements.
Thanks to his commitment to the training, Sani Brown has gained around 5 kilograms since the 2017 World Championships and developed prominent muscles in his hips and thighs, responsible for generating power for his sprints.
Sani Brown suffered from right groin pain in May 2018, his first year in United States. The injury could have ruined his entire season, but a healthcare professional helped him recover. He also received support for doing his university studies in English.
The 20-year-old has benefited from training under a system where there are different coaches and experts in each field, which is rare in Japan due to financial and other reasons. But whether Sani Brown can take full advantage of this opportunity depends on him.
(Japanese original by Ryuichi Arai, Osaka Sports News Department, and Toshiyuki Sumi, New York Bureau)