As a 7-year-old, Brandon Miller took a backseat to his older brother’s track pursuits, but he was given a break when his family went to Des Moines, Iowa, for the Junior Olympics that year.
Miller had qualified barely for the 800-meter run, so his parents, Angela and Derrick, let him enter the race to gain some experience.
He ended up in a photo finish at the tape, losing to a boy a year older.
“When he took second, we looked at each other and said, ‘This really happened,’” Angela Miller said. “He went in, I want to say, ranked 15th. So, we knew he was going to be a big deal in track when he was 7.”
After starring at John Burroughs in high school, Miller is wrapping up his freshman year at Texas A&M by competing in the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., where he finished ninth in qualifying in the 800 Wednesday night with a time of 1 minute, 47.50 seconds to capture the final spot in Friday’s final. He is trying to add an outdoor championship to the indoor title he previously won.
He will then run in the Olympic trials, having qualified by surpassing the 800 standard with a time of 1:45.57. He is a favorite in the NCAA meet but has a bigger challenge to reach the Olympics.
“The trials are most definitely in my head but I tell myself to focus on one meet at a time,” he said. “I always tell people to believe in themselves. So, I personally believe I can run with anybody in the country right now. I’m not doubting myself.”
Since that day at the Junior Olympics, Miller has been supremely confident, seeking records and championships at every level. He won 18 Junior Olympic titles, won the 800 nationally eight consecutive years and won six Missouri state high school championships.
“He won Junior Olympics as an 8-year-old but was a little off the record,” Angela Miller said. “Every year after he would find out the record, write it down and put it on his mirror. That’s just how he was. It was not taught. It’s how the boy was and we followed the lead.”
Angela, a former track athlete at Mizzou, became Brandon’s coach when he was 7 and remained in that position until he graduated from high school. His father, who played football at Mizzou, helped with practice plans along the way. Brother D.J. Miller plays football at Iowa State.
It’s safe to say that Brandon surpassed his brother in track, and D.J. surpassed Brandon in football.
Miller found success at other distances as he was developing, including the 400 and the 1,500. He even ran cross country for two years in high school, winning a district title as a freshman. But the 800 was determined to be his sweet spot.
“It’s all a learning process,” he said. “When you get to college, everybody is good and the same tactics don’t necessarily work every race. In high school you can go out and lead every race. In college, everyone’s a monster and a state champ from their own state. It’s about learning how to race and pushing yourself past the point you thought was possible.”
In recent years, Miller has learned more about strategy and the ability to get himself out of tough situations instead of just being able to outrun everyone from the start.
Things started intensifying his freshman year at a national meet when Miller found himself boxed in and unable to get free to run his race. Then in 2017, Miller was knocked to the ground by another runner, whose act seemed intentional, at the start of a race. He got up and recovered to win.
“In college you can run 1:49 and everyone is still right there,” he said. “So, you’re navigating through the pack and establishing position and racing against grown men. There can be bustling and elbowing in the pack. It’s a lot of bumping and getting your own position, and the thing is you can’t be scared to do that. The biggest adjustment has been being able to be aggressive and create your own space and not get bullied in the pack.”
At 5-feet-8, Miller can seem slight in the pack but that hasn’t been a problem. In fact, it’s something he seems to relish. Miller wears a headband when he runs and recently added an inscription of the Bible verse 1 Samuel 16:7, which reads:
“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
In 2016, Miller’s parents took him to see the Olympic trials and to watch Donavan Brazier, who did not make the Olympics but won a world championship in the 800 in 2019. Miller will run against Brazier in the trials later in June.
“The Olympics have been on his radar since 2012,” Angela Miller said. “We were watching them that year, and he was 10 at the time, and he said ‘In 2020 I’m going to that.’ He would say it pretty much every year.”
Whether or not it happens this year remains to be seen. But Miller is not shy about stating his ultimate goal.
“I’m driven to be what any competitor hopes to be,” he said. “And that’s the greatest of all time.”