TORONTO — Canada's Aaron Brown headed into the NACAC (North America, Central America and the Caribbean) track and field championships full of confidence, and with a target on his back, as one of the top runners competing in the men's 200-metre.
And he proved just that by clocking the top overall time of 20.58 seconds — easing up in the closing stages — as he broke Jared Connaughton's eight-year stadium record (20.66) to advance to Sunday's final.
"I'm not going to be disrespectful but it was one of the easier records [to break]," Brown joked. "I expect that to be broken again in the final by several people but it always feels good to have a stadium record in your own city."
In June, the 26-year-old cracked the elusive 20-second barrier in the event when he raced to second place with a personal-best time of 19.98 seconds at the Oslo Diamond League meet.
Brown says his perseverance is one of the major reasons for his breakthrough this season.
Almost exactly a year ago, the Toronto native was disqualified in the heats of the men's 200 at the IAAF track and field world championships after stepping on the inside line of the bend.
Click on the video player below to watch Brown's victory on Friday:
Brown won his heat in a time of 20.58 seconds, advancing to the final on Sunday. 1:36
In the moment, Brown admits it was devastating when he learned of the news. But instead of continuing to feel down about himself, Brown used it as momentum towards next season.
He looked past his misfortune and saw that he ran a season-best time which would've been the second-fastest overall. Throughout the year, Brown has drawn on that performance as evidence of what he's fully capable of.
Click on the video player below to see Brown discuss his recent success:
He's been flying under the radar for a while now, but newly minted 'Canada's fastest man' Aaron Brown is ready for the spotlight. 3:20
'It was kind of a positive'
"Believe it or not, it was kind of a positive … when I look back at it, I said, 'Ok, I performed the best that I have ever had at a [world] championship. I ran 20.08 [seconds] before I got disqualified, was the first-place finisher in my heat, and usually at championships I'm not feeling that great,'" Brown says.
"I haven't been in position to be one of the top guys going into the next round."
Brown and his coach, Dennis Mitchell, went back to the drawing board this off-season and had a "strong" sit down as they discussed their plans for the following year.
How fast is Aaron Brown? Click on the video player below to find out:
Aaron Brown is now Canada's fastest man. But just how fast is he? CBC Sports' Anson Henry finds out just how fast in this segment. 1:40
Brown knew that if he truly wanted to be a contender in the 200 at the next Summer Olympics in Tokyo, 2018 had to be the year that he ran sub-20 seconds.
The early results have been promising thus far with a silver at last April's Commonwealth Games, multiple podium finishes on the Diamond League circuit and a Canadian championship last month.
The biggest difference Brown has noticed is with his quick start, which has placed him in more favourable positions heading down the stretch. But Brown sees room for improvement in the latter stages doing a mix of interval and endurance running to help him with his finish.
"The part that I've been pretty consistent with is the first 50 [metres] — driving and getting to the top of the turn in really good position — and then running off the curve carrying the speed that I've built," Brown says. "I've been pretty good at that so far and I've been leading most of the races. It's just the last 50 that I still need to work on and that will take me to even faster times."
Canada's fastest man
Brown also returns home as Canada's fastest man after topping Bismark Boateng and Andre De Grasse in the 100 finals at the recent Canadian championships.
It was a title Brown previously owned in 2013 before De Grasse burst onto the track scene, so he insists it doesn't feel any different nor did it take any time to get accustomed to.
"It's nice to have it back because it's something that you work hard towards. When you have such a prominent figure like Andre — who's kind of dominated the media presence — to get some recognition is always a positive. Heading towards 2020, that gives me a lot of confidence," Brown says.
Click on the video player below to watch Brown's sprint double:
CBC Sports' Anson Henry recaps the men's 200m sprint at the 2018 Canadian Track & Field Championships 1:37
Competing in front of friends and family this weekend, there's no doubt that there'll be even more attention on Brown.
But just because he's under the microscope, Brown isn't about to switch up the mental approach that's worked so well for him.
"When you try and reinvent the wheel and do different stuff, that's when you psych yourself out," Brown says. "I know there's added pressure with being in front of my home crowd and one of the premier guys of the meet — they're kind of expecting me to do some big things. But I'm just looking at it like another meet. Just go out, execute, and do what I did in practice."
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