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Rising Star: Sprinter Trayvon Bromell Turns Pro, Signs With New Balance

Although he’s had a taste of success, Trayvon Bromell is a hungry kid who talks like he has an awful lot yet to prove as a runner.

The 20-year-old sprinter who says he grew up dirt poor in St. Petersburg, Fla., turned pro on Tuesday by signing an endorsement deal with New Balance, effectively ending his college running career at Baylor. It was a smart and definitive move, one that will put him on the fast track (or an even faster one) to reaching his still skyrocketing potential.

Like a lot of kids, Bromell dreamed about playing NFL football, a yearning so strong that he even quit track in middle school. But luckily for him, injuries derailed his football career early enough that he was able to listen to his mom’s advice and start developing his true calling that has already made him a once-in-a-generation talent.

“Speed is always something that excited me, but I didn’t really know where I was in track until my senior year in high school,” Bromell said Tuesday. “My mom kept saying, ‘You should run track.’ You should give it a try, don’t just quit on it.’ I kept pushing and working hard and getting stronger from my injuries and God blessed me with an opportunity, and I took advantage of it. Moms always know best.”

Already one of the world’s fastest sprinters, Bromell has experienced a meteoric rise the past three years. In 2013, he became the first high school runner to break 10 seconds in the 100 meters. Running for Baylor the past two years under the guidance of coach Mike Ford, he won an NCAA title in the 100 last year, an NCAA indoor title in the 200 this year and then ran an eye-popping 9.84 at this year’s U.S. outdoor track championships in Eugene, Ore., on his way to becoming the first American teenager to qualify for the IAAF World Championships in the 100-meter dash. He capped off a third straight amazing season on the track by claiming the bronze medal in the 100-meter final in Beijing behind Bolt and Gatlin.

So what’s next? Despite all that he’s accomplished, the sky appears to be the limit. And that’s why inking Bromell is such a big—and ultimately expensive—deal for New Balance.

But here’s the thing: Bromell certainly won’t reach his peak next year at the Rio Olympics and probably won’t approach it until at least the next Olympic cycle and maybe not even until the 2024 Games. Given the uber-competitive nature of the U.S. sprinting scene, he could have his work cut out just to make the U.S. Olympic team next year, both in the 100 and the 200. (Keep in mind that, as good as he is, he didn’t win the 100- or 200-meter NCAA outdoor titles in June, losing each one to Andre De Grasse, a Canadian, who runs for USC.)

So why is New Balance—a brand that thrives primarily because of the volume of shoes it sells to recreational distance runners—so interested in a young speedster like Bromell? Becuase he’s a guy who could take the mantle that all-world sprint king Usain Bolt will certainly vacate soon, most notably the one that carries the title of “The World’s Fastest Man.”

There are no guarantees, but Bromell appears to be that good.

While New Balance Vice President of Running Tom Carleo would love to see Bromell racing in Rio next summer, he’s banking on his future potential. If the kid continues his rise—which certainly seems likely based on the past three years—Bromell could become a household name around the world and, if he does, he’ll do it with a New Balance logo not far from his million-dollar smile.

“We build innovative product for the fastest athletes in the world and we look forward to working with Trayvon as he drives the future of U.S. and global sprinting,” Carleo said Tuesday. “In addition to his performance on the track, New Balance and Trayvon share a commitment to giving back which make him a natural fit for our brand.”

Bromell’s ascendency couldn’t come at a better time for American sprinting, which has been soiled by the doped-up legacies of aging champions Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay. Gatlin and Gay, both 33, are still among the best in the U.S.—Gay 1on the 100 and Gatlin won the 200 at least year’s U.S. championships)—but they’ll be forever dogged by their positive drug tests and the negative connotation they carry.

That opportunity to ascend the throne isn’t lost on Bromell, but for now he’s taking it one step at a time. He’s not thinking about earning medals, just making his first Olympic team next summer. He doesn’t plan on changing a thing now that he’s a professional. He’ll continue to train under Ford with the Baylor program in Waco—and in, fact, he’s going to keep taking college classes.

“That’s the main goal for me,” Bromell said. “It would be a humbling experience just to make the team and be able to run at that level. Getting a medal would just be extra.”