Series05 Jun 2017

My greatest challenge – Bruny Surin


Bruny Surin in the 100m at the IAAF World Championships (© Getty Images)

As a two-time world indoor 60m champion and two-time world 100m silver medallist, Bruny Surin was one of the leading sprinters of the 1990s. Here the Canadian 100m record-holder chats about the greatest challenge of his sprinting career.

A new approach to training

"The greatest challenge I faced was when I left the programme of my long-term coach Michel Portmann to take on a completely different training programme with Dan Pfaff in 1998.

"I knew in my mind I could run faster. I just needed someone to unlock the potential and I felt Dan had the answers. At no stage did I ever leave Michel, but it was Dan’s programme I adopted and this was a big challenge for me.

"I divided my time training with Dan in Texas and Michel in Montreal and I had to take on board lots of new training elements. Before I started working with Dan, I basically didn’t have a drive phase for the first 30 metres, but within a month and lots of practise he fixed that. Up until my time with Dan, my 100m PB was 9.97, but I was soon running 9.9 in training.

"The other major part of my programme Dan changed was weight training. Previously, as soon as I started competing, I completely stopped weight training. My philosophy was I didn’t want to hit the weights during the season because I’d be too heavy. Yet as soon as I started with Dan, I continued to lift weights during the competitive season. Obviously, I didn’t do as many repetitions, but it still helped my power. It worked. The season after I teamed up with Dan, I went under 10 seconds (for the 100m) seven times and that same season, at the age of 32, I ran my lifetime best of 9.84 (equalling the Canadian record to take silver behind Maurice Greene at the 1999 IAAF World Championships in Seville). 

"Dan was such a special coach with so much experience. He always read a lot to find ways to improve and he always focused 100% on the job. I once remember, I was doing a starting-blocks drill with five or six guys. He spoke to us all individually about what we needed to do. I wondered how he could keep an eye on all of us, but he did. He was always so dedicated to his job.

"The relationship with Michel continued to go well, but we sometimes had some delicate moments, particularly on the occasion when both coaches would be at the track at the same time. Dan might say one thing and I wondered, ‘is that would Michel would think?’ Or sometimes Michel would tell me something and I wondered if Dan was thinking the same thing. Yet Dan took over the programme and, although it wasn’t easy, Michel accepted this. It was a team effort and it paid off."

Steve Landells for the IAAF