Fred Kerley was always a 400-meter guy on the world stage. He ran shorter races, too, but he was best at the 400 meters, and very good at it. Kerley won the NCAA and national titles in the 400m in 2017, and got a silver on the United States’ 4×400 team at the national championships that year. He continued on this path into his twenties. Though he was also running the 100 and 200 in 2021, Kerley was planning to run the 400 meters as recently as May of last year. He won a 400 meter race in June of 2021.
Then he changed course. He said ankle pain prevented him from correctly running the turns in the 400m, so he decided to sprint. If this sounds very difficult, you should know that it is even more difficult than it sounds. In track you move speed up, in general. A 200 meter guy struggling to place may find he can extend to the 400, or a 400-meter runner could move up to the 800, and so on. Kerley’s decision to do the opposite was not all that well received. But his times kept improving. He finished third in the Olympic trials and then took silver at the Olympics in Tokyo last summer.
In truth, Kerley’s change had already been validated. Last month he ran a 9.76s in the 100m, tied for the sixth-fastest time ever. And on Saturday night in Eugene, Oregon, he became the World’s Fastest Man.
Kerley’s start was not actually all that great, which means his time ended up just (“just”) 9.86 seconds. He trailed throughout the race, then pulled ahead only in the final few meters. “The gold medal means more than anything,” he said post-race. “It’s amazing to do it on home soil with the home crowd behind us. It’s a wonderful blessing to get a clean sweep.”
The race was an overall triumph for U.S. men’s track, which didn’t win a gold medal at the Olympics for the first time besides the 1980 Games boycott. In second was Marvin Bracy-Williams. He had an even wilder professional route to the games, as he briefly quit the sport to attempt a career in the NFL. After unsuccessful tryouts with the Colts and Seahawks, his football career ended when he was injured on his first target in the inaugural game of the Alliance of American Football in 2019. Trayvon Bromell, who was a favorite in the 2020 Olympics and didn’t even make the final in Tokyo, finished third.
“This win means I can do 100m, 200m and 400m,” Kerley said. “I’ve got a medal in 400m and 100m. There’s only one next.” The 200m races begin tonight.