Track and field was the last sport Aaron Brown started playing growing up in east Toronto and attending Scarborough’s Birchmount Park Collegiate, but it’s the one ultimately taking him to the London Olympics later this month to represent Canada in the 200-metre sprint.
It’s also the sport that nabbed him a U.S. college scholarship to the University of Southern California where he just completed his second year.
“When I was younger I started playing baseball, then I transitioned to soccer and right when I got into high school I started to play basketball and then I got into football,” explained Brown, in a phone interview from his parents’ longtime home in the Coxwell/Gerrard neighbourhood.
“Track was actually the last one that I got into and I ended up sticking with that one.
“But all throughout high school I played basketball and football as well as track (for Birchmount Park).”
His elementary school was Bowmore Road Public School (near Gerrard and Coxwell) and only a bribe from his parents kept him from graduating to Eastern Commerce Collegiate, which would have been just a short walk from his home.
As Brown, who just turned 20 at the end of May, pointed out, Eastern Commerce was “notorious” for its basketball program. Indeed, it still is one of the best in the province, having earlier this year earned the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) silver medal. Over the last 11 years, Eastern Commerce Saints have only missed qualifying for OFSAA once (in 2006), earning five gold and three silver medals.
“I actually wanted to go to Eastern Commerce and go along with my friends,” said Brown.
But in the end it was a bribe by his parents that led him a bit further east into Birchmount Park Collegiate’s BEAP (Birchmount Exceptional Athlete Program). That sports program is also renowned, as one might expect, given that Brown is just one of four former students who have graduated from that school who are heading to London on the Canadian Olympic team.
There are two other sprinters – brothers Justyn Warner, 25, and Ian Warner, 22, who recently finished one-two in the 100m at the recent national Olympic trials – and archer Crispin Duenas, 26, who will be attending his second Olympics.
“They (his parents) gave me an incentive. They said if I went and did well they’d buy me a new pair of shoes and I’m kind of a shoe fanatic so that got me to go there,” said Brown with a chuckle. “It’s probably the best decision my parents ever made for me.”
It turned out well for Brown because not only did he still play basketball, but also added two more sports that, as it turned out, he was even better at – football and track.
His high school football career had a noteworthy ending as he was personally instrumental in lifting his Birchmount Park team into their first ever Metro Bowl game in 2009 at the Rogers Centre, which they ultimately lost 19-0 to Markham District High School.
In the semifinal game, however, it was two spectacular punt return touchdowns by Brown – including his final one with no time remaining – that proved the difference in a 16-10 win over Trinity College of Port Hope.
Even by that time, however, Brown had a good idea his football career was probably going to be cut short.
He was just too good at track.
Having closed out his high school football career with the coveted trip to the Rogers Centre in the fall he went on to close out his high school track career later in the spring with the OFSAA senior boys 100m championship.
And that wasn’t even his most impressive accomplishment of his high school years. On the world stage, he earned a bronze in the 200m sprint at the 2010 world junior championships after earning a silver medal in the 100m sprint at the 2009 world youth championships.
On another interesting note in his early years at Birchmount Park he was good enough to compete on his school’s senior 4x100m relay team, and that team included fellow Olympian Ian Warner.
“That was in Grade 10 at OFSAA. We ended up breaking the OFSAA record and that was something that definitely resonated with me from my high school experience at Birchmount,” said Brown.
If Brown had his way, he would still be a two-sport athlete at USC.
“Oh yeah. I love football,” he said wistfully. “I was actually hoping to walk on to the (football) team at USC, but unfortunately there’s a rule that you can’t have a track scholarship or any other sport scholarship and be on the football team at the same time.”
Brown, who has two sisters (one older, one younger), was named to the Canadian team through a so-called ‘rising star’ exemption after being forced to fight a nagging injury – basically a sore hamstring – at the national Olympic trials in Calgary in late June.
“I wasn’t able to run at full speed, I was still able to compete, but I was a little restricted in my movement so I wasn’t able to go as fast I was capable of going.”
He ended up fifth in the 100m (after earning bronze last year) and withdrew from the 200m.
The ‘rising star’ exemption is basically aimed at providing young ‘can’t miss’ Olympians much needed experience as early as possible. In Brown’s case, he surpassed all Olympic standards and was required to prove he was healthy by racing the Ontario Athletics championships in Ottawa over the July 14 weekend, which he did – easily winning the 200m race.
“I’ll continue to rehab until London and even throughout London,” he said.
He has had success throughout his career at both 100m and 200m, but was pegged in for the latter for London.
“I prefer the 100 but...that’s the decision they came up with because I had hit the A-standard in the 200 twice and the A-standard in the 100 once so they decided to give me the nod in the 200 rather than the 100 and you know I’ll take what I can get.”
It’s the Olympics, after all.
“That’s definitely the pinnacle. The Olympic Games are the highest status that you can achieve as a track athlete so that’s definitely got to be the highlight so far and I’m pretty proud of that.”