Fred Kerley Makes Diamond League History While Leading Team USA 100 Sweep
by Karen Rosen
Fred Kerley competes during the men's 100-meter dash at the Diamond League Memorial Van Damme on Sept. 3, 2021 in Brussels.
After Fred Kerley led a Team USA 100-meter sweep in Brussels to become the first man to win Diamond League 100, 200 and 400 races, a certain Twitter account had a question.
“So… which event will @fkerley99 focus on next year? Asking for a friend,” wrote the World Athletics Championships Oregon22.
“800,” Kerley replied, followed by three laughing emojis. “naw I just playing.”
Yet the versatile sprinter continues to break new ground on the track with no post-Olympic letdown in sight. Kerley, the Olympic silver medalist in the 100 a month ago in Tokyo, overtook Olympic Trials champion Trayvon Bromell in the closing strides of their race Friday to win with a time of 9.94 seconds. That was one-tenth of a second off his personal best of 9.84 set at the Tokyo Games.
Bromell clocked 9.97 and Michael Norman – who ran the 400 in Tokyo – was third in 9.98 before an enthusiastic crowd at King Baudouin Stadium.
While Bromell and Norman had better starts, Kerley, a commanding presence at 6-foot-3, came up between them to grab the victory at the tape.
In the midst of his post-race obligations, Kerley was active on Twitter. When a track and field publication noted that he was the first man in history to win the 100 and 400 on the Diamond League circuit, Kerley wrote that he’d won a 200, too.
“I want to be the best at all three distances,” Kerley said before the meet. “What makes someone the best, maybe a world record? I know I have got the potential to break the 400-meter record.
“I want to be a legend, like Usain Bolt.”
Before this season, Kerley was considered a 400-meter specialist as a two-time national champion in 2017 and 2019. He recorded his personal best of 43.64 seconds at the 2019 meet in Des Moines, Iowa. The Texas A & M standout went on to win the bronze medal in the 400 at the 2019 world championships and the gold on the 4 x 400-meter relay.
Fred Kerley reacts after winning bronze in the men's 400-meter final at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 on Oct. 4, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.
And it was the 400 that delivered Kerley’s first Diamond League crowns back in 2018 when he won in Rome, Birmingham and Zurich. Kerley also won the one-lap event in Shanghai in May 2019.
Even as late as May of this year, Kerley said he was leaning toward running the 400 at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track and Field. However, he changed gears and chose the shorter sprints in June, finishing third in the 100 and fourth in the 200 at historic Hayward Field in Eugene.
“For me, the season really took off at the Trials, and that is why I am in the shape of my life,” Kerley said.
After the Olympics, Kerley won the Diamond League 200 meters on Aug. 28 in Paris with a personal best time of 19.79 seconds. That set him up to complete his triple with the 100 in Brussels.
Kerley is also one of only three athletes to run a sub-10 second 100, sub-20 second 200 and sub-44 second 400. The others in the exclusive club are Norman and Olympic gold medalist Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa.
Now Kerley advances to the Diamond League final in Zurich Sept. 8-9. Winners are awarded a bye into the World Championships in Eugene next summer.
Kerley was also the top American two weeks ago in the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, where Canadian Andre De Grasse won with a strong tailwind. De Grasse’s wind-aided time was 9.74 seconds, followed by Kerley at 9.78. Ronnie Baker, a 2020 Olympian, was third in 9.82, followed by Bromell (9.86) and Norman (9.90).
Bromell is still the fastest man in the world this year at 9.77 seconds. He went into the Olympics as the favorite, but did not make the final in Tokyo. Bromell said he was pleased with his finish in Brussels.
“I still have some work to do if I want to be first,” he said.
Michael Cherry reacts after competing in the men's 400-meter final at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 5, 2021 in Tokyo.
If Kerley continues to specialize in the shorter races, he has left the 400 in good hands. Michael Cherry, who was fourth in Tokyo, turned in a personal best of 44.03 seconds in Brussels, eclipsing the 23-year-old meet record of 44.06 set by the legendary Michael Johnson in 1998.
Cherry defeated Kirani James of Grenada, who won the Olympic bronze medal in Tokyo to go along with his gold and silver medals from previous Games. Although James appeared in good position rounding the final turn, Cherry had a burst of speed to pull away on the final stretch. James finished in 44.51 seconds, followed by Isaac Makwala of Botswana in 44.83.
“I still have a few races to go, so no vacation for me yet,” said Cherry. “I still have to focus and try to be better each time.”
“He’s been having a dream season,” said NBC analyst Sanya Richards-Ross, noting that the time would have placed Cherry on the podium in Tokyo, where he ran 44.21 seconds.
For Sha’Carri Richardson, the Brussels meet was a chance to regain her footing after finishing ninth in the Prefontaine Classic in the 100.
This time, she raced the 200, finishing fourth with a time of 22.45 seconds. Christine Mboma, the Olympic silver medalist from Namibia (who was ruled ineligible to compete in the Olympic 400 due to differences in sexual development), won in 21.84 seconds. She was followed by Shericka Jackson, the Olympic 100-meter bronze medalist from Jamaica (21.95) and 2019 world champion Dina Asher-Smith of Great Britain (22.04).
Richardson’s personal best is 22.11 seconds in the 200. She won the 100 meters at the Olympic Trials, but a positive test for a banned substance found in marijuana resulted in a suspension that kept her out of the Olympic 100.
Sporting bright red hair, Richardson got a warm welcome. After all, as Richardson tweeted after the Pre Classic, “Only way from 9th is up!”
Karen Rosen has covered every Summer and Winter Olympic Games since 1992 for newspapers, magazines and websites. Based in Atlanta, she has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.