Fred Kerley Runs Down Amazing Gold As American Men Sweep 100m At Worlds | Sport

When Fred Kerley as a young boy slept on a pallet with 12 other children in a single room in Texas, he dreamed of traveling the world. Instead, on a night of impossible drama in Eugene, he overcame it.

In the last desperate steps of this 100m world final, Kerley instinctively thrust his chest out and his arms back like an aerodynamic Superman. As he did so, his compatriots Marvin Bracy and Trayvon Bromell strained, swung and lost form. In a hazy finish, the six-foot Kerley somehow got on the line to take gold in 9.86 seconds, with Bracy taking silver and Bromell bronze, both in 9.88 seconds.

It was the first American clean sweep of the men’s 100m podium since Carl Lewis, Leroy Burrell and Dennis Mitchell in 1991. But long before the stadium announcer confirmed the result and the crowd started chanting “USA! USA!” Kerley down the back straight, frantically celebrating one of the sport’s greatest rags-to-riches tales.

The bare bones of how the 27-year-old’s story was sure to be rejected by Hollywood for pushing the boundaries of the impossible. At the age of two, his father was in prison and his mother was absent because she had taken “wrong turns in life”. And so his aunt Virginia adopted him and his four siblings and raised them with eight of her own children in Taylor, a small town 30 minutes outside of Austin, under the tiniest of rooftops. It was a tough upbringing, but Kerley was always encouraged to dream and float.

“Me and my brother and sisters were adopted by my aunt Virginia,” he explained afterwards. “We had one bedroom. There were 13 of us in one bedroom. We were on the pallet. At the end of the day we all had fun, we enjoyed ourselves and are now doing great things.”

“What motivates me is that I come from where I come from and not be in the same predicament,” added Kerley, who has the words ‘aunt’ and ‘meme’ – his pet name for her – tattooed on his biceps. “Keep doing great things. You don’t want to be in the same position you were when you were younger.”

He said touchingly that he is now also talking to his parents. “Every day,” he said. “What happened in the past is not happening now.”

There have been many sliding door moments along the way. Kerley wanted to be an American football player and only changed his sport after breaking his collarbone in the last game of his high school career. And until 2019, he was a 400m runner, good enough to win a bronze medal at the world championships, before moving up to the 100m and 200m when his ankles felt a little sore during the 2021 US Olympic trials.

A month later, he won a silver medal in the 100 meters in Tokyo, but finished just 0.04 behind Marcell Jacobs with a burning sense of frustration. For the past 11 months, Kerley has been unable to stop himself from screaming “push” whenever he rewatches a video of the final. In Eugene, however, that push was timed to perfection.

Fred Kerley spreads his arms and guides his American teammates to the gold medal in the 100 meters
Fred Kerley spreads his arms and guides his American teammates to the gold medal in the 100 meters. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

“I saw Bracy before me,” he recalls. “He ducked early. I ducked in at the right time and got the job done. It’s great to get a clean slate, the greats did that in 1991 and the greats of 2022 did that today.”

It helped, of course, that Jacobs was missing from the final after sustaining a leg injury in the heats. While Tokyo bronze medalist Andre De Grasse was a shadow of his former self after injuries and Covid. But Kerley, as he has done so many times in his life, seized the day.

But everyone on the medal podium had a story that deserved to be amplified. Bracy, for example, competed in the 2016 Olympics before throwing his arm in the NFL — only to break it later in his first game in a development league in 2019.

“I then made the decision to get back on the track,” said Bracy, who had spells with the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks. But the challenges still piled up. His silver medal came after an appendix rupture and an intestinal blockage, which left him with eight staples from his navel to his pelvic area.

And Bromel? Well, he spent nearly $300,000 between 2016 and 2019 to repair a severely damaged Achilles tendon, which drove him out of the Rio Olympics. Things got so bad in 2018 that he even wrote a draft letter to his agent announcing his retirement. “Sometimes it’s hard to wake up,” he said Saturday night. “In practice my ankles crack, hips crack. I sound like an old man. But nights like this make it all worth it.”

In another era, these stories would be absorbed into the mainstream of American sports and life: amplified and celebrated. Not anymore. Even in Eugene, which considers itself Tracktown USA, the 15,000-seat Hayward Field stadium was perhaps only 80% full.

There may still be time to change things up, especially if Kerley wins more medals in the 200m and 4x100m relay. It certainly helps that he is a true Renaissance man, with tattoos all over his body and a penchant for growing vegetables. “My crops are actually doing well,” he said. “Before I left, I cut some pumpkin. I ate spinach from the garden and it was amazing.”

With that, he slapped his left biceps and smiled. But athletics’ new Popeye isn’t just thinking about adding more muscle to the track. He also wants to inspire the next generation. “Every day a bunch of young people look up to me,” he said. “If I can do it, they can.”

What a story. What a performance. And what a person too.

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