Fred Kerley wins Worlds 100 meter title
Fred Kerley wins Worlds 100 meter title
EUGENE, Ore. – Fred Kerley was 12 when he got his first tattoo.
It was a birthday present to himself and he paid a street artist in the central Texas town of Taylor $ 200 to ink the Bible verse “Psalm 104” over his right rib cage so he could hide the tattoo from the disapproving eyes of his Aunt Virginia, the most important person in his life.
A woman Kerley calls “Aunt Meme.”
More tattoos –12 and counting – would follow: The Virgin Mary on his upper right arm, roses, a rosary, praying hands and birds at various places.
And when he was older and more bold, Kerley had “Aunt Meme” inscribed on inner left bicep.
The location is fitting.
“She will always be my strength,” Kerley said.
The inscription was evident as Kerley raised his arms in triumph after winning the World Championships 100-meter title at Hayward Field Saturday night.
Kerley, powered by a defiance of the sport’s conventional wisdom and by the woman who changed the course of his life, led the first Team USA sweep of the men’s 100 medals since 1991 with a 9.86 second victory that electrified the first World Championships held on American soil.
Kerley out-leaned silver medalist Marvin Bracy and Trayvon Bromell in third, both men timed in 9.88.
“We said we were going to do it,” Kerley said, “and we did it.”
Team USA picked up a second gold Saturday night in Tracktown USA with Chase Ealey winning the women’s shot put with a 67-feet, 2 ¾ throw.
Kerley’s win in the final of a competition that included the reigning Olympic 100 and 200 gold medalists and the defending World 100 champion Christian Coleman completed a quest he set for himself when he surprised global track and field a year ago by switching from 400 to 100.
“I want to be the fastest man alive,” Kerley, 27, said.
A certain retiree in Kingston, Jamaica, might debate whether Kerley achieved that Saturday but the Texan over the last two days further solidified himself as the biggest threat to Usain Bolt’s world record of 9.58. Kerley is certainly the most unlikely World 100 champion and his victory validated his much criticized decision to drop the 400 for the 100 last season.
“I believe in myself first and foremost,” Kerley said. “I don’t run to be second best.”
But then Aunt Meme’s approval was all Kerley really needed
Kerley was born in Taylor about a half hour north of Austin. By the time he was age 2, his father was in prison. His mother, Kerley said, “took wrong turns in life,” and left the family. Kerley and his brother Mylik moved in with his uncle Ricky and aunt Virginia Kerley.
“She’s the woman who changed my life, who made my life,” Kerley wrote in a 2019 essay in Spikes magazine.
Fred’s wasn’t the only life Aunt Meme changed. When Fred and Mylik moved in with her, she was also raising her one children as well as those of another relative. All told there were 13 children under Virginia and Ricky’s roof. She would continue to raise another generation of children, 25 total.
Fred Kerley’s first interests were football and basketball. He didn’t turn his attention to sprinting until he broke his collarbone in his final football playoff game.
After a stint at South Plains College, Kerley emerged on the global scene in 2017 as a more likely heir apparent to another Texan, Michael Johnson, winner of two Olympic 400 and one 200 gold medals, instead of Jamaica’s Bolt, setting the NCAA 400 record at 43.70 and then turning pro.
He won the 2018 Diamond League title and then knocked off favorite Michael Norman to win the 2019 U.S. title in 43.64. He was a disappointed third at Worlds.
A series of impressive early season 100 results in 2021 were met with intrigue but not taken entirely seriously in the sport. Even after Kerley ran 9.91 in April 2021 many in the sport saw the 400 as his best chance to win gold at the Tokyo Olympics. Undeterred, Kerley kept posting hot times and by the Games arrived in Tokyo he was the 100 co-favorite with countryman Trayvon Bromell. Instead the El Paso-born Lamont Marcell Jacob, running for Italy, captured the gold medal by edging Kerley 9.80 to 9.84 to become the perhaps the most surprising 100 champion in Olympic history.
Kerley opened the current season with a 44.47 400 in March and then followed it with a then world leading 19.80 200 victory over current U.S. 400 champion Norman at USATF Golden Games at Mt. SAC in April.
Kerley is the only man to win the 100, 200 and 400 races in Diamond League meets.
“Fred is a Swiss Army knife,” said U.S. quarter-miler Michael Cherry. “He can do a lot of different sprint events.”
Asked after his Mt. SAC victory what he would run at the U.S. Championships and Worlds, Kerley smiled
“You’ve got to wait and see,” he said.
Kerley dropped a 9.76 in the U.S. Championships semi-final June 24, the second fastest time in history. He won the U.S. title later that day in 9.77.
He opened up at Worlds with a 9.79 in Friday night’s heats, the fastest time ever in a Worlds heat and giving him the three fastest 100s of 2022 heading into Saturday.
“I’m going to say it. FRED KERLEY,” Johnson, at Worlds as a commentator for the BBC tweeted after the race.
Kerley cruised to an easy 10.01 win into a slight headwind in the second of three semis Saturday evening. Among those left in his wake was Canada’s Andre DeGrasse, the Olympic 200 gold medalist who has battled illness and injury in recent months. The former USC NCAA champion finished a non-qualifying fifth in 10.21. Jacobs did not even make it to the start of the third semi, the victim of an injury that has hampered him most of the season.
The third semi also claimed Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala, who arrived in Eugene shortly before his Friday heat after his visa request was flagged and then delayed by the U.S. embassy in Nairobi,
Omanyala was supposed to arrive in Eugene on Monday. Instead, because of the visa delay, he didn’t land in Tracktown USA until three hours before his heat after spending 20 hours on planes on a journey from Nairobi to Doha to Seattle to Eugene.
“I never got any reason (for not getting the visa sooner),” Omanyala said. “The good thing is I got it.
“It’s really disappointing and I really hope they do better next time because they know they are hosting the Olympics in 2028.”
Ninety-six minutes later, the 100 finalists settled into the starting blocks – Kerley in Lane 4, Bracy next to him on his left in Lane 3, Coleman and Bromell on the right in Lanes 7 and 8.
Only Coleman (.104) got out of the blocks quicker than Kerley and Bromell, whose .110 reaction times were eight-thousandths of a second faster than Bracy. Kerley would hold that slight edge through the finish.
He continued around the first turn, stopping beneath the scoreboard confident he had won but like the rest of Hayward Field not certain. Finally the scoreboard flashed the results.
Kerley trust up his arms as the stadium erupted in a loud roar celebrating the fastest man on the planet. He is a quiet, shy, private man. But in that moment he was a man who wore his heart on his sleeves, his inked skin revealing his truest beliefs.
“BLESSED” read one arm. The other named the woman who had done just that.