The 100-meter sweep by the US, led by Fred Kerley, is being discussed everywhere. In this column, Deji Ogeyingbo discusses why Fred Kerley is so tough.
Brilliant and unreadable Fred Kerley’s transition from the 400m to the 100m finally yields results as he claims the 100m title on home soil.
Resilience, resolve, and character. Three words that encapsulate sprinter Fred Kerley. The American ran 9.86s to clinch Gold and become the fastest man in the world as he led a clean sweep for the USA, with Marvin Bracy and Trayvon Bromell coming through for second and third.
Kerley, who until 2020 was predominantly a 400m runner, had his hands stretched wide as he crossed the finish line inside a full-capacity crowd at Hayward field, indicating he was here to stay for the long haul after there were lingering doubts about his ability to challenge for the title of the fastest man in the world.
The build to the race had all of the ingredients for a spectacle. The first time the USA was hosting the championships since it began, a potential clean sweep by the hosts, Olympic champion Marcel Jacobs pulling out of the semifinal, and Kerley potentially breaking the world record.
Kerley wasn’t unflustered. He talks a great deal about putting in the shift in training and letting his race do the talking. And on race day, his legs sure did the talking.
He wasn’t out of the blocks first. Typically, his compatriot Coleman was out fast in lane 7 while Bracy, who was beside him to his left, got about a yard or two on him on the drive phase. Kerley kept digging deep, and his resolve certainly paid dividends as he crossed the line first.
The winning time wasn’t all that special as it doesn’t rank in the top five fastest championship winning time over the 100m, but Kerley will still take it anytime. He has already proven himself in the heats when he cantered through to win in 9.79s. But here, in the final, it boiled down to who had the nerve and resolve to push through the finish line. And only one man had the answer, Kerley.
More importantly, is his transition from running the 400m to the 100m. He confused many when he made that decision, but it has obviously paid off in the end. NCAA Champion in 2017 and Diamond league winner in 2018, it felt strange seeing him transition to the 100m knowing fully well there were more established runners over the shorter distance. (The truth is, Fred Kerley moved to 100m in 2021 due to ankle injury, he has not given up the 400m).
Before Kerley’s switch to the 100m in 2020, his previous best stood at 10.49s, a time he ran when he was just 20 years old. How he managed to transition to running 9.76s in the span of two years (the joint 6th fastest of all time), winning the Diamond trophy in 2021, snagging Olympic Silver in 2021, and now becoming the world champion over the distance seems absurd.
His character tells the final story. Partly, this is because so much of his running is based on instinct. Not so much an instinct for how fast he needs to run to catch up with his competitors, but trust in his abilities, which races he needs to run to ensure that he keeps his speed and endurance stronger.
And so, to attempt to beat Kerley in a race is in many ways a metaphysically futile exercise. Only two sprinters have achieved that over the 100m this year. Ferdinand Omanyala and Bromell. Still, you could argue that those losses came under extraordinary circumstances. More importantly, he learned from them.
There are vanishingly few players in world sprinting who are as business-like as Kerley. Maybe Steven Gardiner of Bahamas. Even when he was still that teenager of tease and poise running with flailing legs in the home straight of a 400m race, Kerley always ensures the job is done. He did that in Eugene, and that’s why the men’s 100m title is his.