By Kyle Merber
April 4, 2023
It’s no debate that the 100m is the premier event in track and field. The limited number of lanes, the draw of big money, and the always bright lights are only making it even more crowded. One man who has thrived in this ultra-competitive environment is World Championship silver medalist and 9.85 guy Marvin Bracy.
Never one to shy away from an opportunity to race, this indoor season was a quiet one for him, and it wasn’t due to injury. In fact, he was at this year’s Millrose Games and we watched the Men’s 60m next to one another.
Before the race, he asked me for my pick to win and I joked, ‘My favorite guy isn’t in there!’
Fortunately, Bracy is finally back out there.
In this interview, he details where he was, and how things are going. Plus, he offers one of the most transparent behind-the-scenes looks into the business side of the sport you’ve likely ever seen from an athlete of his caliber.
If you weren’t already a fan of Marvin, then you will be soon…
The Lap Count: So indoors we didn't see you because you were in the middle of contract negotiations. But, you’re back out there in a Nike uniform. What happened? What was going on?
Marvin Bracy: So my contract ended on December 31st. That’s pretty much standard. The way it works is that Nike could match any deals that I got. They structured it when everyone’s hot – like Fred (Kerley) and Marcell (Jacobs) and all of them. They each have a date where they have to have a match or they let you go.
And fortunately for me, Marcell’s date was before Fred’s and then Fred’s, and then me. So I got to sit back and watch everything unfold and see who goes where.
Obviously, contracts aren’t public but to see who goes and where it was announced was great. I’m the World silver medalist. I’m a 9.8 athlete. And I'm sitting behind the Olympic champion and then the World champion. So I'm third in the pecking order and we're all with the same company. We all ran ourselves into a hell of a lot of money.
To keep everybody, Nike was going to have to pay a pretty penny. We knew that wasn’t going to happen. I knew that wasn't going to happen. So we watched to see who goes where and what that freed up. When Marcell was gone, that freed up some money for Fred. And once Fred was gone, that freed up some money for me. By the time it got to me, it took like 10 days to do my deal.
The Lap Count: At that point, they wouldn’t have to match anymore.
Marvin Bracy: They would not have to match anything because it makes no sense. Look at the landscape of the sport. Trayvon (Bromell) has a stranglehold on New Balance. They haven’t signed a top sprinter since he signed in like 2015? I don't know why. I understand they're more of a distance company. But if I'm being completely honest, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Y’all could make a lot of headway in the sport because athletes want to venture out. Not everybody wants to be with Nike or Adidas. I think that one day maybe they will broaden their horizons and sign other people.
Noah (Lyles) is coming down to the 100m for Adidas. Erriyon (Knight) is probably gonna come down to 100m for Adidas. They have Akani Simbine with Adidas. Oblique Seville is with Adidas. Adidas has some pretty heavy guys on their roster getting paid.
Obviously, Fred ended up taking a deal with ASICS. So that would create less money for me with them.
And then Marcell goes over to Puma again – who again has a few guys on their roster. This is all before the Michael Norman news came out. When you look at the roster and how everything is playing out, it really doesn't make any sense logistically to go anywhere else because now all the money just got freed up at Nike. Now I know what to ask for. Now I’m worth more to you because I'm no longer third in the pecking order. Your two heavy hitters just left.
The Lap Count: You're the franchise tag now.
Marvin Bracy: Exactly. Christian (Coleman) already got his money. Norman already has a deal locked up. So now, all that money that you were just about to give one of them, you’ve got to give to me.
The Lap Count: It sounds like in this one off-season, the numbers probably changed significantly. Obviously, you can't tell me the numbers, but like, we're talking like 25-50% bigger than maybe they were a few years ago?
Marvin Bracy: Drastically. Yes. Hell yeah.
The Lap Count: Then that changes the game forever now. Because now the kids who are coming out of college next year know. This is why no one ever wants contracts to be public.
Marvin Bracy: I pray to God that contracts become public.
The Lap Count: Because everything would go up.
Marvin Bracy: Everything will go up. The money would go up. The exposure would probably go up because it just makes it all a little bit more interesting. Think about it. I know nobody really wants everyone to know what they’re making. But think about the NFL – you see Jalen Ramsey or Tyreek Hill sign a four-year deal for $100 million. Now you're interested to see how they perform and the clauses and the bonuses. Also their competitors can see what they’re fighting up against.
The Lap Count: Exactly – there's also a rivalry element to that. You’ll get pissed that someone else is getting paid more than you and you're beating them.
Marvin Bracy: You feel me! To get appearance fees in this sport, you need medals. They don’t care about times. I’m okay with our appearance fees being public. Imagine I’m going to the Rome Diamond League and I’m about to race Marcell and he just got paid $80K and I got $30K. I’m going to destroy this man. Y’all did what?! Okay. Cool. I got you.
Imagine this, I’m seeing people’s times and I see Fred, who was in front of me just signed for $1.5 million with ASICS. Okay, I'm thinking – he’s got this medal. He ran that time. Okay, so he got $1.5M. If I got this medal and ran this time, then damn I should be worth somewhere between $900K and $1M. That’s how negotiating works.
They keep people in the dark. If only y'all knew how many people got robbed in this sport because everything is done behind closed doors. What Christian could’ve signed for coming out of college could be different than what Tray signed for. And they basically did the same thing. They both won a collegiate national championship and ran a fast time.
The Lap Count: So in terms of appearance fees, it's a similar thing in that you guys are all fighting over a small pot and it goes down the pecking order. Is deciding your schedule later in the year totally up in the air until you see what things you're going to get? From a fan’s perspective, that’s tough because they don't know when they're going to see all their favorite runners out there.
Marvin Bracy: Exactly. Let me take it a little deeper. I'm okay with seeing new faces and new people come in and get signed. It makes the sport better. But it can be a detriment to this sport because if new people come out every year and get medals, the next year they have to pay the people that got medals. So now every athlete is going to want some money when they come to race. You can't afford everybody so you're going to lose certain matchups.
The Lap Count: Yeah, it's in the best interest of the sport if the same guys keep winning medals.
Marvin Bracy: Unfortunately.
The Lap Count: Not for you!
Marvin Bracy: Everybody deserves their money. Let me tell you the realest thing I've ever heard. This is all because me and Fred were actually working together throughout this whole deal process. We started this at Worlds. We started talking twice or three times a week. It was like: “Okay, this is what's going on with me. What's going on with you?... Okay. Fred, I can’t do shit until you figure it out. So you keep calling me and asking me but when you decide, we can go.”
If Fred takes a deal with Nike, I’m going to ASICS. If Marcell stays with Nike, I can go to PUMA.
We worked this tirelessly along with our agents and we figured it out. He told me, “Listen… This sport would be much better if everybody was getting their money.” And it would be. You have some guys out there running for nothing. If I told you what I was making, you were probably making more money than me in the last three years.
The Lap Count: Me?!
Marvin Bracy: I guarantee you were making more money than me in the last three years of my career. I wasn’t in a bunch of Diamond Leagues. The Diamond League prize money is $10K. I wasn’t winning a bunch of Diamond Leagues. I was running B-class meets. I don’t have an appearance fee. Shit, I was still getting a roommate at track meets. When you get a medal, you get your own room and an appearance fee.
That's why everything in the sport is filtered at the top. There's no gray area. There's top and then there's top-ish, which means you might get fourth through eighth. You might make the Worlds or Olympics final, but your paycheck doesn't look like theirs.
It’s very rare that people pull off what I did. Fortunately for me, I happened to be in the right place, in the right training, with the right coach, the right system, that everything lined up. With what I was making I couldn’t afford certain things, certain treatments or even a certain doctor. If I got hurt, God help us all.
The Lap Count: Going back to what you said about the Diamond League. That prize money is laughable compared to the appearance fees. Are you as an athlete opposed to the idea of that being switched around? What if the Rome Diamond League started giving $100,000 for the win with no appearance fee?
Marvin Bracy: I’d be perfectly fine with that. Because that would make people actually have to race the field. I just started getting appearance fees and if they called me to say we’re not doing that and instead it’s first place gets $100K; second place gets $75K and third place, etc. Okay, cool. I’ll see you there.
Now, what's going to happen is that lanes will get more scarce because everybody is going to try to go to every race. How can you tell Fred Kerley, Christian Coleman, Marvin Bracy, Noah Lyles, Michael Norman, or Trayvon Bromell, “hey, we don’t really want you here.” You can’t. Marcell Jacobs or Andre De Grasse? How can you tell these people who have been winning medals and running fast times no? They’re going to want to go to every race to get money.
The Lap Count: From a fan's perspective, though, is that not the goal?
Marvin Bracy: Yes. But it will hurt anybody else who is upcoming and trying to get there. If every time, every race, you see the same eight guys, it will put a damper on the sport. Because now those other athletes have to go to like, the B-Circuit meets and maybe race for $2K or $3K with no appearance fee.
The Lap Count: Yeah, I hear you. But wouldn't that be a little bit more relatable to other sports in the sense of like, you have to prove yourselves in the minor leagues before you get called up to the majors. You have your opportunity at the U.S. Championships and at Worlds to prove that you belong there next season.
Marvin Bracy: I am with you on this. I'm on your side. I'm just playing devil's advocate.
Like you said, you get the opportunity at a U.S. Championship or something like that. Now, when it comes to the difference in money, I’m running for $100K and you’re running for a lot less. So if you’re not winning and killing that circuit, when it comes to certain amenities you still can’t afford certain stuff that I can. I can go get third place at a Diamond League, get $50K and go to Germany or somewhere in Europe to find the best doctors to make sure my body is always in tune. I have the best everything.
The Lap Count: I think that's the difference between our sport and others. We're very concerned with this idea of fairness and not just what's the most entertaining thing possible.
Marvin Bracy: Yeah, I'm with you.
The Lap Count: From my perspective, I want to see you, Fred and Tray, race every other weekend all year. But it might not be fair to a guy who can't get a lane and keeps going to the B-level circuit. He might be running 9.8, but because he doesn't have a medal for an entire year – we won't see that match up.
Marvin Bracy: The Rome Diamond League is not going to be exciting. I can tell you that off the bat.
The Lap Count: Well maybe after that…
Marvin Bracy: They already told us they don't have enough to pay for the match-up that we're trying to get. Obviously, Jacobs has to be there. To get me, Fred, Tray or De Grasse on the track, all of us command an appearance fee. So you got to have a whole lot of money. And you have other events like the women’s 200m or 100m. You have so many people that you would have to dish out money toward.
The Lap Count: So how does the sport break this cycle, in your opinion? Is it just athletes deciding, “Hey, we want to race each other” and that's it?
Marvin Bracy: The athletes are going to have to come together. The management companies are going to come together to get some kind of deal. Or they're going to have to do away with appearances and turn it into a bigger pot. And like you said, there will be a set pecking order. You’ll see all the same matchups all the way through to Worlds or Olympics. You’ll have to eat what you kill and earn your keep. If you go to your national championship, make the team and you get a medal, then you are now in that pecking order.
The Lap Count: Now another example: Akani Simbine is running 9.92 this early. Is that the secret hack? On the distance side of things, that’s what you could do. You could just open up with a really quick time in March and you'll get your way into the big races. The appearance fees are pennies comparatively. Is that an option in the 100m or you have to wait until August?
Marvin Bracy: You’ve got eight lanes or sometimes nine lanes on a track for a Diamond League. Let’s use Rome as an example. Rome has, say nine lanes. Jacobs already has one. That’s one gone. So now we’re at 8.
This sport is all about: What have you done for me lately? Who can sell some tickets?
So what have you done for me lately? As of right now, there's just an American sweep in the most recent championships. So if there's an American sweep, we are automatically going to get a lane if we want it. If me, Fred or Tray want that lane, we’re going to get it. So let's just say two of us get in and the other one doesn’t. So let's just say that me and Fred decide to run in Rome. OK. That’s two other ones gone.
You've got Michael Norman coming down to the 100m. He’s a 400 meter champion. He's still a champion and the crowd loves that guy. So if Michael Norman wants a lane, he’s probably going to get a lane.
But these Diamond League promoters don't always want to overly do it with Americans so they’ll probably throw in somebody from one of the commonwealth countries. They're probably going to throw in somebody from Jamaica. They're probably going to throw in Ferdinand Omanyala. You got Andre De Grasse. If he wants a lane, he’s going to get a lane.
You’ve got so many guys who can get these lanes that it's going to make it hard for other people. Even if you run fast early, it’s like, “OK…That shit is cute but can you do it when it matters?” But you won’t get many opportunities because of the pecking order. If you’ve got guys ahead of you who have medals and credentials, there’s nothing you can do about it.
The Lap Count: What’s your schedule looking like right now?
Marvin Bracy: A lot is up in the air right now. I’m still waiting to hear back from that meet Botswana. I’ve never been in this position before. I’ve got to wait and hear back to see what they think of what we’re asking for. If that doesn’t happen, there’s an LSU track meet that’s actually supposed to be very good. I still have Nairobi on May 13 so that could be my first potential big meet of the season. I'm looking forward to it. This will be my best season I’ve ever had from start to finish.
I came onto the scene at 19, which is crazy because I was actually making some money before I ever ran a pro event. I was 19 and I didn’t really know the lingo, what to ask for or what not to say. I didn’t know the ins and outs. I never had to negotiate because the representation I was with already had everything stapled and put together before I ever even signed. They got me a good deal but still… I’m 19.
At that point, I'm thinking I'm going to get medals and I'm going to make teams. Then it gets off to a rocky start. The first two years of my career didn't go great. But then what happens? In the nick of time and in the last year of my first contract that I was under, I made the Olympic team in the 100m. I ran under 10 seconds a couple times. I'm thinking: “Okay, you already paid me this for just signing the paper and being a good athlete. I'm pretty sure I should be making this, now that I’ve ran 9-seconds legally and made the Olympic team.” I finished like, 14th overall. I thought I ran myself into a nice payday and that didn’t happen.
That’s when I realized this sport is not what I thought it was. So then, I made an executive decision to go play football. I believed that if I get on a practice squad, I’d make more money than some of the top track athletes. That's just on a practice squad. I tried that and failed.
I came back knowing that if I do some things differently, I'll run better and I'll be better. And that's exactly what happened. I changed so many things on the fly. I'm still making progress, which is why I said this season will be the best I’ve had. I'm still slowly figuring it out. I revamped and re-started my entire career from scratch. I got to do a lot of things differently. With maturity and with time, I stayed active. I got stronger. I got more fit. I got more mature in a number of ways. So once everything started to come together, this is the result. They say men hit their prime right around now. I’m 29 now. But I’m not 29 on the track because I took four years off.
The Lap Count: You feel 25. Well, there's not that many places that you can go up right now. If you're more fit this year and running faster, then I think there’s only one more medal.
Marvin Bracy: That’s what it's about. I was so close to capping off everything that I thought I could have. Now it’s just time to do it. It’s time to get me one. In every athlete's career, especially in track and field, everybody wants to be that one. What people don't understand is that it is extremely hard. It's as hard as it looks. We run fast and we make it look pretty, but it's a lot harder because it's the top guys in the world fighting for one spot. It's not like football where everybody can be the cream of the crop.
The Lap Count: And it's not like you have many tries. You get one try.
Marvin Bracy: You get one in and then it takes a year to try again. Yeah it’s kind of like the Super Bowl. You can throw for 500 yards one week, lose and still be on ESPN.
The Lap Count: Not in track. They’ll forget you real quick.
Marvin Bracy: It’s what you signed up for.
The Lap Count: Another thing I want to hear about is your sports hernia surgery. I got a sports hernia surgery myself. It ruined my career. I should have gone to your guy. My speed was done after it.
Marvin Bracy: So in 2016, Adidas had a race in Nuremberg, Germany. I woke up the day of the race and my stomach was hurting around the abdomen area so bad. I come from that football-gladiator mindset where I think I can overcome and can practice through anything. I can do anything. Injury is not real in the football mentality. They are real but you're supposed to be tough enough to overcome them. So I go there anyway. It was me, Yohan Blake, Keston Bledman, Akani Simbine, and Warren Weir. I get dead last in that race and run like 10.32.
I knew something was wrong with me. I go tell our coach that something is wrong with me. He sent me to get a medical opinion. They said it was some sort of inflammation in my groin that would go away over time. I ended up taking a cortisone shot. That was the first time I ever had one. That had me feeling like I was superman. I thought I was on top of the world. No pain whatsoever. I had to get a TUE for it. I took one and then I went to a meet in Claremont and I ran 9.94, which at the time was my second-fastest time ever.
Then, look at how God works. The very next weekend, Adidas has a street race in 2016 in Boston. The lineup was me, Yohan Blake, Keston Bledman, Akani Simbine and Warren Weir – the same people as the race in German. I win in like 10.22.
The Lap Count: That doesn't count on the floating track so who knows what that time is.
Marvin Bracy: That track was fucking terrible. I can say that. They were my sponsor. I beat the guys. You know what my next track meet was? The Olympic Trials. I went and made the team.
The Lap Count: And then you got the surgery after the season.
Marvin Bracy: I did it after the season. The craziest thing happened. I’m still kicking myself in the ass for this. I was due one more cortisone shot before the Olympics, but I was still feeling so good that I didn't take it. I was like, “No, I'm cool.” I go to the Olympics. I get through the rounds. And the day I woke up for the relay to run a relay in practice, it started hurting again.I was supposed to be the first leg on the 4x100m relay. And then we put Mike Rogers on and disqualified. We got disqualified for the first handoff.
The Lap Count: That’s what happens when you think you're invincible. What was the 2020 surgery?
Marvin Bracy: So it’s 2020. I had just come back to track and field in 2019. Most people don't know I was training with Lance Brauman, who is an Adidas-sponsored coach. He was my coach before and so I went back to him. I ended up running really well indoors and got second to Christian at the U.S. championships. I ran 6.49 but I had just come back from being three years removed from the sport. I came back and ran my second-fastest time ever. So Nike came in, game me the deal, but I had to leave Lance Brauman.
The Lap Count: This is when I'm making more money than you.
Marvin Bracy: Exactly. So they come in, they give me a deal. My son was just born and I needed it. Beggars can’t be choosers. I’ll take it and I’ll flip it. All I need is the opportunity.
In 2020, I moved up to Jacksonville and I ended up training with Rana Reider. We went down to Claremont in 2020 at Dennis Mitchell’s track meet and I ran through it but I knew my body was out of whack. I knew something was wrong with me.
Come Monday, I told my coach that something was wrong. The worst time of my life… I was in the hospital the next day and I learned that my appendix had burst.
But that's just the start. COVID has kicked in so all the track meets have been canceled. The Olympics were postponed. I’m not all that mad. This is in July of 2020. I get the surgery and something still wasn't right.
I go back to the hospital and come to find out I have a blockage the size of a golf ball in my lower intestine. So they had to do what's called an exploratory laparotomy. They had to cut me open about two inches above my belly button to where my public area starts. It was a good incision that had to cut straight down and open me up, take the blockage out and staple me back together.
The Lap Count: How long are you out?
Marvin Bracy: Needless to say, that ended my season. I didn’t leave my house until like, late September. I didn’t really feel like myself until October. But I was back at practice on Nov. 18. I told my coach I was coming back and planning to run indoors. Then, my season’s best was 6.65. Clearly, I wasn't okay but I had to run through it. But then again, the same season I previously ran 6.65, I went on to run 9.85 for 100m.
The Lap Count: And then at the trials. What was it? A hamstring injury?
Marvin Bracy: Yep. It was unrelated. At the time, I was taking a pre-workout about 45 minutes before the race. Every morning, I also drink coffee. When it’s time to compete, I naturally just get really amped up. I'm very happy to be there. I love the opportunity to be able to go out there and compete and to do something that I love and get paid for it. This isn't a job to me. You’re telling me that the better I get, the faster I get, the more money you're going to give me? For 9 seconds of running? You’re gonna pay me $40K, $50K, $60K in 9 seconds? Sign me up. I will gladly do that.
I was just so happy to be there. The pre-workout plus the coffee plus just my natural adrenaline was making my body spasm.
The Lap Count: So you stopped taking the pre-workout?
Marvin Bracy: No, it wasn’t my last time because we didn't know at the time that's what caused it. Were you at the NYC Grand Prix last year?
The Lap Count: I was not.
Marvin Bracy: OK. So go back and watch the race. This is going to be funny. Coleman won the race with a 9.92. I just knew that day I was going to drop a 9.7. I warmed up hard as shit and I took that pre-workout right before the race goes off. I set the blocks for the race. I took off and my right calf cramped up. So if you look at the tape, I never have a drink at the starting line. I took my electrolytes to the starting line because I realized my calf was cramping. I was on national TV. I had to make a decision: Do I run? What do I do?
I was like “I'll just run through it. I'll be alright.” I was downing those electrolytes. But it’s too late once you start cramping up.The race goes off. My right calf is already cramped. My left leg cramps. I'm like, “Oh my God, this is fucking terrible.” I'm running and I'm just trying to stay within striking distance. I was cycling. My legs were locked. I ran 10.02 – a season’s best.
I started thinking: What about what am I doing wrong? What's going on? My coach asked me if I was taking the pre-workout again and he pointed out that was the problem. I haven't taken it and I haven’t had a problem since.
The Lap Count: Do you sleep well the night before meets?
Marvin Bracy: Honestly, every night of my life feels like the best sleep I’ve ever gotten. I sleep like a fucking king. I only need like six or seven hours. I get up every day at 6:00 a.m. Every day. I don’t need an alarm. And I'm ready for the day.
But I also now have two kids. My son is in school and there’s a two-month-old baby in the house. I think it works for me. Even on race day, I get up at like 6 or 7 a.m.
The Lap Count: See, I could never sleep when I was competing because I was too amped up the day before.
The Lap Count is a weekly newsletter delivered on Wednesday mornings that recap all the fun action from the world of track & field. It’s a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of the sport. There is a lot happening and this newsletter is a great way to stay up to date with all the fun. Subscribe today.
After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.