Tracking Mia Brahe-Pedersen's swift yet spectacular ascent
John Parks saw the speed. Her frame had serious potential.
Her technique and mechanics, however, needed serious work.
A track coach for four decades, Parks knew he could fix these deficiencies — the prospect of molding a talent of that stature enraptured him. He knew he could be the one to help Mia Brahe-Pedersen become one of the nation's fastest, even if she couldn't yet see it herself.
"I'd seen and I'd heard about her … I saw her run and immediately picked up on things going, 'She's good, but, oh my god, she can be great,'" he said.
Brahe-Pedersen, a rising junior at Lake Oswego High School, has become the state's best sprinter seemingly overnight. At the Nike Outdoor Nationals at Hayward Field in mid-June, she took first in the 200-meter dash and second in the 100-meter, while adding a second-place finish in the 4x100 and fourth in the 4x400.
She now calls the nationals a warm up for what came next: The Under-20 World Championships. On the world stage, she followed up her brilliant performance with a fourth-place finish in the 200 finals, having tied an Oregon state record with a time of 22.95 seconds in the semifinals. She finished seventh in the 100 and qualified for both the USA 4x100 and 4x400 teams.
For the girl who first hit the track in sixth grade, and only began treating it as her primary sport as a 12-year-old seventh grader, the rise has been equal parts rapid and momentus.
"Everything has come on really quickly," she said.
Speed was always her defining trait. A soccer player of nine years, the plan was simple: Give Mia the ball, and get out of the way. Eventually, those around her questioned, 'Why not try track?'
"Why just run for fun?" she first thought. "That's the painful part that nobody wants to do for conditioning practice in soccer."
She joined Inner Circle Track Club in November of 2018 and, with the guidance of coach Hashim Hall, developed a strong passion for the sport. Hall turned a great athlete into a burgeoning track star. Brahe-Pedersen still trains with the club on occasion.
"I fell completely in love with the sport," she said.
And she remembers exactly when: Hayward Field, 2018 — a Tracktown youth meet on the eve of the old field's demolition. A collegiate meet had just concluded. Before the youth meet began, athletes were welcomed down onto the track to soak it all in.
Brahe-Pedersen made her way to lane four and planted herself at the 200-meter starting line. One day, she'd like to be back there as a collegiate athlete, she thought. Her father Christian could see it all happening — the thoughts seeping into his daughter's head. Years later, he confessed he'd felt a shift that day, too.
"He told me that he saw that and from then on, he knew we were going to make something out of this," Brahe-Pedersen said. "He knew immediately that something was going to come of my track career."
Her self-proclaimed breakthrough came years later at the Oregon Relays in the middle of her sophomore campaign. It was the first time she ran in the 11.3-second range in the 100, the first time she felt an urge to make a name for herself.
"All of the attention that I've been getting … it's just really new to me," she said. "It's something that I'm having to adjust to, but it's kind of giving me a peek into what my future could possibly hold, which is pretty cool."
Parks has coached athletes of all ages and levels including some of the sport's elite like Portland sprinter and 2012 Olympic silver medalist Ryan Bailey. A former athlete of his, Lance Brauman, has gone on to coach some of the world's fastest himself, such as Olympic medalist Noah Lyles. Parks has even dipped his toe into the NFL world, working with players to increase their top-end speed.
Working with one of her Lake Oswego teammates at the time, Parks approached Brahe-Pedersen in the spring of 2021 to offer his services. He'd seen the spectacular potential. All he needed was a chance.
In the days following, he heard nothing. Then, her father gave him a call and, by late May, Parks was putting Brahe-Pedersen through her first private workout and Bailey was there to show her the ropes.
Parks knew precisely where to start: the backside mechanics. He'd studied and diagnosed her style, its pitfalls and inconsistencies. When she sprinted, her heels weren't recovering fast enough. They drifted too far towards her backside and weren't going fully through and under her frame. Each stride, he said, cost her several hundreths of a second.
"Ninety-nine percent of kids are never taught how to sprint properly," Parks said.
He ran her through drills designed to accentuate her top-end turnover and implemented high-speed video analysis in hopes of making one of the state's fastest even more dominant.
"She's just scratching the surface in terms of her potential," he said. "That's what's exciting."
Brahe-Pedersen started her career with the 100, 200 and 4x100 races, and then added the 4x400 in her second year and even tried long jump. The latter event wasn't for her. She prefers to watch the field events, which is perfect because her friend, Oregon City High School's Sophia Beckmon, has made quite the name for herself as well. Beckmon, a rising senior, set a new Class 6A record in the long jump after posting a leap of 20 feet, 8 inches at the 2022 Nike Outdoor Nationals.
The state's best sprinter and the state's best jumper are the best of friends.
"Everyone describes us as this unstoppable duo because we just win everywhere we go," Brahe-Pedersen said.
For as much success as they've shared, they keep one another humble, she said, comparing her relationship with Beckmon to having a sister — one who understands the pressure of being at the top. They're together at one another's side, navigating the newfound stardom.
For an entire year, it's been nonstop competition. And while that lifestyle seems especially apt for an athlete who's made a name for herself doing exactly that, Brahe-Pedersen is learning that, sometimes, it's OK to slow down.
This season has been the most consequential of her young, blossoming career. She's had a higher number of meets in previous summers, but never were they of this caliber. It's caused her stress and taken a more significant toll on her body.
There have been no vacations and few days off. So when those breaks come, Brahe-Pedersen focuses on recharging and being a normal teenager.
"(I'm) trying to convince myself in the offseason that it's OK to just be normal for a little bit and that having nothing that I really have to do is OK," she said. "I'm allowed to just have time to myself. I'm allowed to eat something unhealthy. I'm allowed to do whatever I really want during my offseason and I don't have to worry about it."
Sometimes it's hard to convince herself of that. It requires constant reminders, because, as her private trainer Parks will tell you, she often pushes herself to train more than she needs.
"She's probably the best kid I've ever had towards just being completely bought in and immersing herself … She's a perfectionist by nature," he said.
For as many strides as Brahe-Pedersen has taken, there's still plenty that Parks would like to address. Soon, he hopes to introduce lower body lifts, mimicking the training regiments of elite collegiate and professional sprinters. Because, at just 16 years old, with a 100-meter dash that could soon dip below 11 seconds, that next level is hastily approaching for Brahe-Pedersen.
"She never dreamed she was going to be this good," Parks said.
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