Humans of UK: Tai Brown runs to win


Tai Brown poses for a portrait. Photo provided by UK Athletics.

Justin Conti

Every young athlete dreams of making it to the biggest stage to perform at the highest level. For Kentucky track star Tai Brown, his eyes were set on the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Since Brown was five years old growing up in New York, he was involved in the running world. He and his mom Debbie Gittens would go watch his older sister Amina Smith run in high school, who later ran collegiately at SEC rival South Carolina.

“As she’s at practice, I would get out of my stroller and pretty much run with her,” Brown said of his “pee-wee” days.

From then on, his stride never stopped. In high school, Brown was the 2016 and 2017 New York City Mayor’s Cup Champion. In 2018, he was the New York state, New York City and borough 110-meter hurdles champion.

Once he arrived at UK, Brown broke the UK freshman record in the indoor 60-meter hurdles, crossing the finish line in 7.85 seconds.

After continuing to dominate on the blue and white track, Brown got to experience something only a select group of athletes can say they have done — the U.S. Olympic Trials.

As a junior, he gathered with the greatest athletes in the United States to compete at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, sharing in one common goal: qualifying for the Olympics.

“Seeing everyone I’ve seen on TV when I was younger, people that are still in the game … I’m actually here now and I have the opportunity to run with them,” Brown said.

To the left of Brown on the starting line were seven of the greatest hurdlers in the country. The three fastest runners got to represent the United States. Brown looked down the straightaway, at the tops of the 10 hurdles that stood between him and Tokyo.

Brown placed fifth. Running a personal best of 13.32, he got to watch his fellow Wildcat, professional hurdler and UK alum Daniel Roberts, place third with a time of 13.11 only two lanes over. Brown was 21 milliseconds behind.

After falling short at the Olympic Trials, Brown returned to UK for another college season. This past indoor season, he won the 60-meter hurdle at the Cardinal Classic, and although he placed second at the Red Raider Open, he ran a new personal best and now holds the fourth fastest time in UK history.

None of these post-Olympic Trials accomplishments came without downfalls, however.

“The past few meets haven’t gone as well as I wanted it to, but I PR’d, and right now, it’s just outdoor season,” Brown said. “There’s also World Trials in Oregon again, and so I’ll be trying out for that as well.”

Brown is not done chasing the Olympic dream yet. He is determined to make his return to the Olympic Trials in 2024 to book his ticket to Paris and finish what he started.