Fourteen years after earning his first Olympic medal—4x400 metres bronze at the Sydney Games—Chris Brown continues to achieve global success. His latest podium finish came at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland, in March, the Bahamian earning silver in the men’s 400 metres in an indoor best 45.58 seconds.
It’s not uncommon to establish PRs (personal records) at major championships. It’s absolutely extraordinary, though, to produce career-best performances at 35.
But Brown is no ordinary athlete. Unfortunately, he has missed out on individual precious metal at the two major outdoor meets, finishing fourth at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games and fourth at the 2005 and 2007 IAAF World Championships. In the 4x400m relay, however, Brown was a world outdoor champion in 2001 and an Olympic gold medallist in 2012. He also has silver and bronze at the Olympics, and two silver medals and a bronze in the event at the World Champs.
Brown also has a very impressive World Indoor Championship record. In 2006 and 2008, he earned 400m bronze. And then in 2010, in Doha, Qatar, the evergreen quartermiler struck gold in the event. He picked up another bronze in 2012, and added Sopot silver at the 2014 edition of the global championship.
There is so much to learn from Brown’s career. It is a lesson in consistency, inspired by negativity.
“Growing up and hearing so many negative thoughts,” says Brown, “I know how easy it is to break someone’s spirit. So many dream killers are out there, and for me it’s all about proving people wrong.
“Some people feel when you get to a certain age you must retire,” he continues. “If you say I can’t do this or it shouldn’t be done or can’t be done, my job is to let people re-write the history books. I want to show that at 35 I can still run the times that a 22- or 21- or 19-year-old guy can do, and so far I am doing well with it. Eating right, sleeping right, and just staying healthy is a big gift for me, and a gift to the world to show them that if you do the right things, the right things will come back to you.”
Brown is a fighter, a rare breed of human never daunted by failure.
Fourth is the most challenging of positions for a track and field athlete. Finishing just outside the medals hurts deeply, and could be a crushing blow for many. Furthermore, fourth spot four times on the biggest sporting stages—twice at the Olympics and twice at Worlds—seems a sure-fire recipe for retirement... Not for Chris “Fireman” Brown.
“It’s a nickname the fans gave me. My younger sister started it, saying ‘bring the fire, bring the fire’. Every time I stepped on the track, the determination and the fight and the drive that I have created the ‘Fireman’. Every time I step on the track, they say ‘Fireman Brown, hey Fireman’ because I’m always coming with a hundred per cent on the track. They see a fire in me that I don’t think they see in anyone else. That’s how the ‘Fireman’ name came about.”
Brown is well-loved in Nassau, Bahamas. But on his home island of Eleuthera, he is adored. Returning to Eleuthera for the first time since 2012, Brown is treated to a lively welcome reception at the airport, complete with a Junkanoo group. A motorcade follows, and the international media is part of the convoy.
“You’re not seeing many people on the road,” says the driver, “because everyone is in the motorcade.”
He’s right! A glance back reveals a long line of cars.
Everyone on Eleuthera wants a piece of the “Fireman”. And he obliges, visiting school after school with his wife, Faith, and daughters, Emerald, four, and Zorah, two.
“It gets tiring doing the travel, but once you appear at the school grounds and you see the kids and the excitement on their faces, you can go and go and go and the energy level starts to rise.
“The gift that God has given to me,” Brown continues, “I’m using it to my best. I don’t know how many lives I’m touching, I don’t know how many lives I’m helping to save. To let kids see that dreams do come true, it’s a great feeling. If I can do it, they can do it also. So for me it’s a great feeling knowing that I could inspire a whole generation behind me. Growing up I didn’t have a role model, and now I am a role model for so many. I’m just blessed and thankful.”
Brown is grounded. Though he has made a successful career in athletics, he has not forgotten where he came from.
Brown’s father, Harcourt, is the strong, silent type, while his mother, Nola—reputed to have been quite an athlete in her day—is warm and bubbly. Together, they provided the solid upbringing that moulded Brown into the man he is today.
As a boy in Eleuthera, Brown was coached by Michael Coakley.
“I was on a mission,” says Coakley, “and I recognised he had to go on a mission too. My mission was to get him to the mission that he’s on now. Something told me keep on doing this, keep on motivating him, keep encouraging him, and at the end of the day, I was surprised that he went as far as he did.”
Brown is very much a team man, and gets excited when the topic is Bahamas in the 4x400m relay. He shares about how he loves to “trash talk”, and get inside the heads of his opponents. He recalls with pride a 4x4 clash with Jamaica, and how, as a young, unknown athlete, he talked the talk before walking the walk, anchoring Bahamas to Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Championship gold in Barbados.
That sense of team was nurtured on the streets of Eleuthera.
“The Dragons,” Brown explains, “is made up of basically cousins, a group of cousins that would compete anywhere, any place, a group of us that enjoy the sport. It was our own little club that we created. We did it for fun. With the talent that we possessed, we wanted to see what we could do, going on the street and racing one another.
“We created shirts with little markers and crayons. That group of guys, my cousins, bring back the memories when I’m home. Once we are all home, we gather all together, and it’s a good feeling.”
This dragon has come a long way, and though considered a track “pensioner” by many, he’s still breathing fire.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Express writer Kwame Laurence is among a select group of sports journalists chosen to be part of the latest IAAF Day in the Life series, a project featuring some of the Caribbean’s best athletes as well as other major players in the sport of track and field. Next Friday, a track baby who was born ready.