EUGENE, Oregon. — Before the race, American fighter jets flew over the stadium. Then, on the track, the Americans displayed a different kind of speed.
Fred Kerley led the charge Saturday at an All-American night for track and field, headlining the first American sweep of the sport’s showpiece event, the men’s 100m, in 31 years at the world championships. He placed a red-white-blue stamp on day 2 of the first championships held on American soil.
“We said we were going to do it and we did it,” Kerley said in the on-track interview, moments after the crowd finished chanting “USA! USA! USA!”
Kerley crossed the line to finish in 9.86 seconds and beat both leaning Marvin Bracy and 2021 US champion Trayvon Bromell by less than 0.02 seconds. The difference between second and third was 0.002.
It was the first American sweep at the world meet since Carl Lewis, Leroy Burrell and Dennis Mitchell won gold-silver-bronze in 1991 in Tokyo.
“It’s amazing,” said Burrell, who was on hand. “And honestly, I wouldn’t have expected less from this group. It’s one of the best groups of American sprinters we’ve had in years.”
This all-American burst of speed came moments after the jets presaged the evening’s main event by flying over Hayward Stadium, the still-comfortable compound on the University of Oregon campus that has been renovated to bring the championships in the United States for the first time.
The race itself brought back memories of when the United States dominated the track game the way Jamaica and Usain Bolt did for almost a decade starting in 2008. Some might call it the good old days – Lewis was a star and Burrell and a few others certainly filled the stands. It was also the era of the sullen track superstar and an era marked by doping.
This one was more like a bunch of throwback and “I told you so” stories.
“It’s amazing to be surrounded by the greatest,” Kerley said. “They did it in ’91, and now we’ve done it in ’22.”
Kerley, the 27-year-old Texan, came to Eugene as the favorite — the only sprinter to clock 9.8 seconds this year. His reward is a title in an event he didn’t start investing time in until last year’s Olympics.
In a webcast interview with former US sprinter Rae Edwards earlier this year, Kerley explained the reason for the drop in distance.
“At the end of the day, nobody really comes to watch anything other than ‘The Fastest Man Alive,'” he said. “So if you ask me what I want to be, I want to be the fastest man alive.”
Now he is part of the fastest team in the world.
The runner-up, Bracy, was a scholarship football player who left Florida State to pursue his career, then returned to the gridiron for a few unsuccessful NFL tryouts. Now he has a silver medal.
“I went and played football for three years, obviously it didn’t work out,” Bracy said. “So coming back to do that, that says it all.”
Bromell was the favorite at the Olympics last year but failed to make the final. He was a relatively forgotten man at these world championships, and starting on the outside in lane 8 certainly didn’t help him in the final.
“A lot of people didn’t expect us to do this, obviously from what happened to me in Tokyo,” said Bromell, who nearly quit the sport a few years ago due to heart injuries. Achilles’ tendon. “So we just hope we’ve earned some respect tonight.”
The ultimate respect could come next weekend. All of those medals are sure to raise expectations for next weekend’s 4×100 relay, an event the United States has notorious and longstanding issues with.
Kerley will be the leader of this team. He finished second at the Olympics last year behind Italy’s Marcell Jacobs, who came out of nowhere to win the gold medal in Tokyo.
But a gluteus muscle, then an abductor muscle, bothered the Italian this season, and when a “DNS” – who did not start – appeared under his name in the semi-finals earlier in the evening, the ground began to clear.
It opened up again when Canadian Olympic bronze medalist Andre De Grasse, diagnosed with COVID-19 just 2½ weeks ago, finished fifth in the same run.
That left four Americans – reigning world champion Christian Coleman was the other – in the final eight for only the second time (2015 was the other) at the world championships. They were all in the world’s top nine this season, with only South Africa’s Akani Simbine in sixth looming as a threat.
Coleman started fast but finished sixth.
Even so, there was less doubt about the sweep than about the order. Oblique Seville of Jamaica, who finished fourth, was 0.09 seconds behind the medalists.
Kerley overcame the fourth slowest start but continued to close. He was in lane 4, an inside lane of Bracy, who was ahead of his taller opponent with around 40 yards to go. Kerley closed and crossed the line, while Bracy ducked at the finish. Bromell was also in the photo-finish.
“Being in lane 8, it was hard to see where everyone was,” Bromell said.
He finished less than a step behind Kerley. The champ kept racing to the finish line and into the first corner. It took about 20 seconds for the result to appear. When that was done, he raised his hands, then – in a new twist to these worlds – a presenter ran out and hung the gold medal around his neck. He took it off and held it in his left hand as he completed his victory lap around the rest of the oval – his old 400m distance never felt so sweet.
Just minutes earlier, Chase Ealey had won Team USA’s first gold medal in the competition, in the women’s shot put.
Other crowned champions were Wang Jianan of China in the men’s long jump, Pawel Fajdek of Poland in the hammer throw (his fifth world title) and Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia in the women’s 10,000m. In that race, Sifan Hassan, who won medals in the 1,500m, 5,000m and 10,000m in Tokyo last year, finished fourth.