EUGENE, Ore. — As he sprung out of the blocks Sunday night, Trayvon Bromell knew his legs were heavy. He believed everyone else's were, too.
Keep pushing, keep pushing, he thought to himself.
It's been a familiar mantra for the 25-year-old sprinter over the past five years, as he's overcome a string of injuries, including two Achilles surgeries. And it served him well again in the final of the men's 100-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic trials, as he turned in a blistering time to break away from an uber-competitive field.
Bromell's time in the final, 9.80 seconds, was fourth-fastest 100 in the world since the Rio Olympics, which he left in a wheelchair after aggravating a heel injury. It was a masterful performance, but not one that he'll dwell upon in the leadup to Tokyo.
"I feel with confidence sometimes comes complacency. And for me, I don't like to get complacent," Bromell said. "For me, I'm still going to go home and train as if I'm not being talked about at all."
Ronnie Baker finished second in 9.85 seconds to also punch his ticket to Tokyo, while Fred Kerley – who has traditionally run the 400 but switched to the 100 and 200 for the trials – finished third, just one-hundredth of a second behind Baker.
Two of the biggest names in the field, Noah Lyles and Justin Gatlin, finished a surprisingly seventh and eighth, respectively.
Gatlin, the 39-year-old who owns five Olympic medals, said afterward that he picked up a hamstring injury in his semifinal heat. He tried to run with it but came up lame down the stretch. Lyles, the reigning world champion at 200 meters, attributed his performance to a slow start.
"My coach said that I had a late reaction. So I can't do nothing on that one," he said.
American Christian Coleman, the reigning world champion and one-time gold-medal favorite, will also be notably absent from the 100-meter field in Tokyo. He was suspended in October for two years after missing a series of drug tests.
The U.S. has won at least one medal in the men's 100 in each of the past five editions of the Summer Games.
For Bromell, Sunday's performance capped a remarkable comeback. A high-school sprinting star, he appeared destined to compete for a medal at the Rio Olympics before injuring his heel – a bone spur that hindered his speed. He had surgery to remove the bone spur after returning to the U.S. Then a second procedure was required. And then, when it seemed like he was back to full health, he injured an adductor muscle.
All told, Bromell ran a total of just three competitive races in the span of about three-and-a-half years, effectively falling off the map. He switched coaches. And he has talked about leaning on his faith as he's patiently worked his way back into shape.
"The biggest thing I learned about myself (was) understanding that, internally, I'm not as strong (as I thought)," he said. "It's understanding that I need people, I need my faith, to be able to do what y'all seen today. We're human. We break down easily. We're not as strong as we think we are. And that's one thing I had to realize. I had to put my faith in something that was bigger than me."
In the wake of Usain Bolt's retirement, the United States has emerged as the dominant force in the 100. And since Coleman's suspension, Bromell has emerged as the man to beat in Tokyo.
But after everything he has been through over the past five years, he said he's not about to let a little success change his approach.
"Anybody who knows my story, I come from the hood," he said. Nothing was easy for me. Everything was hard. So I have that and I channel that, every time that I step on the track, every time I go to training, I feel like I have everything to lose."
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trayvon Bromell, Fred Kerley, Ronnie Baker qualify for Olympic 100m