Fred Kerley is the world champion in the 100-meter dash and is making an extraordinary journey to becoming the world’s fastest man.
Kerley, the 27-year-old American who took silver at the Tokyo Olympics, won the men’s crown jewels race at the IAAF World Championships in Eugene, Oregon on Saturday night. He prevailed in 9.86 seconds, ahead of a US medal win Marvin Bracy and Trayvon Bromellwho ran 9.88 each.
It was the United States’ first medal in the men’s 100-meter dash since 1991 and its first at a World Championships since 2007.
Kerley passed Bracy to his left in the last 10 yards.
The same Fred Kerley who was considered a 400-meter sprinter until early last year. The same Fred Kerley who got on the South Plains Community College track team nine years ago. The same Fred Kerley who might never have sprinted if he hadn’t broken his collarbone in the last football game of his high school career in Texas.
“I said I was going to do some great things at junior college,” Kerley said Saturday night. “I speak crazy things. I think I’m still talking crazy things.”
The same Fred Kerley who tattooed the words “aunt” and “meme” on his biceps.
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“When I first moved in with her I was two years old, a toddler who didn’t know what was going on around him,” Kerley wrote in 2019. “My dad ended up in jail, my mom took wrong turns in life eh.” Aunt meant Virginia was the only one who could take care of me and my four siblings. Meme – as she is better known – has raised her children, her brother’s children and us, with 13 children all living under one roof. She also raised the two or three generations after me, and she’s still raising them—25 children in all.”
Kerley said that Great-Aunt Virginia sometimes went without food to make sure he and his siblings had something to eat.
Kerley experienced further setbacks as he transformed into a world-class sprinter. As a sophomore at South Plains, he experienced leg pain while anchoring a relay.
“I kept going before falling across the finish line when I realized I had ripped my quad,” he said, according to World Athletics. “I had a hole in my leg and I could put my finger in the hole.”
Kerley still made it as a transfer to Texas A&M. He broke through as a senior in 2017, dropping his 400m personal best from 45.10 to 43.70, making the World Championship team and ending the year as the second fastest man in the world at the event.
“I became elite by working my ass off,” Kerley said, according to Olympics.com.
Last year Kerley raised eyebrows by mainly racing the 100m and 200m races. Ultimately, he chose those two events in the Olympic trials, reportedly dropping the 400m with an ankle injury.
“My ankle was swollen,” he said, according to Athletics Weekly. “I made the last minute decision to run the 100 and 200 meters because I knew I couldn’t go around the corners [in the 400m] how I wanted it.”
It paid off. Kerley took 100-meter silver at the Olympics on his debut as a world champion. He started 2021 with a personal best of 10.49 in the 100 meters from his South Plains days. He finished it with 9.84 in the Olympic final.
This year he ran 9.76 and 9.77 in two hours at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships last month. At Friday’s World Championships, he clocked a 9.79, the fastest first-lap time at a global championship.
Kerley was asked if this gold medal would change his life.
“Athletics has already changed my life,” he said.
Like Kerley, training partners Bracy and Bromell have their own year-long stories to this day.
In 2013, Bracy left the Florida State football program after his freshman redshirt season to turn pro in track and field, a year before the Seminoles won their last national title.
He unexpectedly made the 2016 Olympic team, lost in the semifinals in Rio and then gave football another chance. He coached for the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers in 2017 but did not play a regular season game. He was briefly a member of the Seattle Seahawks in 2018 and the AAF’s Orlando Apollos in 2019. He returned to the track in 2020, elapsed nearly three years between races. Now, at the age of 28, he is on the podium for the first time at a global outdoor championship.
“My stamina,” drives me on, said Bracy. “I’ve struggled with some things I don’t talk about. I just walk away quietly and just keep fighting.”
Bromell ran the world’s fastest 100m time last year and to the Olympics, but dropped out in the semifinals in Tokyo. Had he won a medal in Japan, it would have been an all-time rebound. Bromell was wheeled out of the Rio Olympics in a chair. He completed a total of three races in 2017, 2018 and 2019 due to injury and was considered over.
Bromell said he wrote a retirement letter in 2018 that he wanted to give to his agent.
“I didn’t see any hope,” Bromell, who spent an estimated $300,000 traveling across the US and Europe for medical treatments for his Achilles tendon, told LetsRun.com. “I could barely walk.”
Italian Marcel Jacobs, the surprise Olympic gold medalist, retired with injuries to both legs ahead of Saturday’s semifinals. Jacobs has been held back by illness and injury since winning the world indoor 60m title in March.
The World Championships resume on Sunday with the women’s 100-meter sprint finals and the American gold medal favorites in the men’s 110-meter hurdles and women’s shot put, pole vault and hammer throw.
also saturday Hunt Ealey became the first US woman to win a world title in the shot put. Ealey bounced back from a fifth-place finish at the Olympic Trials and had the second-best throw in American history that season. On Her Turf has more about Ealey here.
Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey, the world record holder in the 5,000m, 10,000m and half marathon, won her first global gold by winning the 10,000m. Gidey, who was expelled from school as a teenager for refusing to run in physical education class, held off the world 5000m champion Bright Obiri of Kenya in a furious five-woman battle in the last round of the 25-round final.
Dutch woman born in Ethiopia Sifan Hasan finished fourth a year after winning gold in the 5000m and 10,000m and bronze in the 1500m in an unprecedented Olympic triple, then took an eight-month hiatus. On Her Turf has more to offer about the women’s 10,000m here.
“I really needed a break after the Tokyo Olympics,” said Hassan. “I was mentally devastated. I didn’t care about running.”
Wang Jianan from China won the men’s long jump, overtaking the Olympic champion Miltiadis Tentoglou of Greece by four centimeters by jumping from sixth to first place on his sixth and final jump.
Poland hammer thrower Pavel Fajdek became the third person to win five outdoor world titles in an individual competition, joining the Ukrainian pole vaulter Sergei Bubka (six titles) and German discus thrower Lars Riedel.
All the favorites advanced to the women’s 100m semifinals, including Jamaica’s two-time Olympic champion in the 100m Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (10.87) and Elaine Thompson-Herah (11.15).
Elsewhere in the qualifiers, notable figures dropped out, including the 2019 World High Jump Championships bronze medalist Vasti CunninghamUS champion in the 110 m hurdles DanielRobertswho fell while leading his run on the first lap, and US Olympic gold medalist in the 1500m Elle St.Pierre.
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