This is a thought-provoking piece on how Fred Kerley will manage the complex year that is 2024. This story by Fred Kerley is by Deji Ogeyingbo. Deji is at the University of Georgia pursuing his Masters in Journalism. We are happy to enjoy another year of his writing in 2024. 

Fred Kerley faces a defining season as he looks to get back on track this Olympic year.

This time last year, most of the talk surrounding track and field was about the potential match-up between the 100m Olympic Champion Marcell Jacobs and the 2022 World Champion Fred Kerley.  No doubt, they were the top two sprinters in the world at the time, and Kerley was thwarting everyone aside.

Kerley had just left Nike for the Japanese brand ASICS and was on an upward trajectory. Things couldn’t have been better. He won races in Australia and Japan and even had enough time to squeeze in an exhibition event in May after the race in Tokyo. At that point, all the talks about the potential fantasy race between himself and Jacobs had died down, partly due to the Italian propensity to get injured.

Meanwhile, Kerley’s focus was shifted to dominating the 100m, and what better way than to do in the Diamond League as he set his sights towards defending his title in Budapest last year. He genuinely was beginning to be a superstar of the sport. The aura that only Usain Bolt had. That feeling of being unbeatable against his peers.

Fred Kerley, USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at Hayward Field, University of Oregon, July 6-10, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris

His teammate and compatriot, Noah Lyles, had it in the 200m. However, the tag fastest man has always gone to the man that controls the 100m. It’s the marquee event at a global championship, the one everyone had their gaze on, and for Kerley, he was as versatile as they came in a sprinter as he decided to carve a niche for himself.

He boasts an impressive track record with two Diamond League titles under his belt (securing the 400m crown in 2018 and the 100m title in 2021). Additionally, he has clinched four world championship medals, including two golds – one in the 4 x 400m relay in 2019 and another in the 100m last year. Adding to his accolades is an Olympic silver medal earned in the 100m at the Tokyo Games.

Fred Kerley wins the 2022 WA Outdoor Champs 100 meters, July 16, 2022, photo by Getty Images for World Athletics.

Kerley stands out as one of the elite few who have achieved the feat of running sub-10 seconds in the 100m, sub-20 in the 200m, and sub-44 in the 400m, solidifying his status as one of the most versatile and successful sprinters in track history.

You can liken the current crop of 100m sprinters to a coalition of lions fighting for territory in the savanna. He had a spectacular start to the Diamond League season. He kicked off the season with a phenomenal display, securing gold medals in the initial stops of the 2023 Diamond League circuit. The journey began in Doha, where he dominated the 200m, clocking an impressive 19.92s and outpacing his compatriot Kenneth Bednarek and Canadian Aaron Brown.

His winning streak continued in Rabat, Morocco, where he claimed the top spot in the 100m. Despite glancing at his rivals and easing up in the final meters, he crossed the finish line in 9.94s, establishing a new meet record.

Fred KERLEY wins in Doha 2023 with a fine of 19.92 over the 200m, MARISE NASSOUR FOR DIAMOND LEAGUE AG.

The momentum persisted in Florence, Italy, as he once again triumphed in the 100m, matching the time achieved in Morocco (9.94s). Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala secured the second spot in 10.05s, while Trayvon Bromell of the U.S. was third in 10.09s.

Remaining a force of nature in the sprint takes a lot, and we begin to see the inklings that Kerley might struggle in Budapest. Before finishing second in the 100m in Silesia in mid-July, the American had missed out on a spot in the 200m at the US trials and was low on confidence. Perhaps he had a niggling injury, but he still forged on, dispelling any talks that he won’t defend his title.

Fred Kerley signed a contract with ASICS, photo by ASICs

Kerley isn’t the kind of athlete one will associate with being tacky and obsessed with the celebrity life of a superstar. He’s the exact opposite. So, when he lined up in Budapest and placed second in his heat, the signs were there that he would struggle to win another Gold. In his presser, his response to his form was very discrete, not letting much out and not giving much away.

Perhaps it felt erratic. Almost like something was missing. It showed in the semis as Kerley missed out on the final. Although he ran in the US’s 4x100m squad that won Gold, Lyles was the name that hugged the back pages.

Fred Kerley, USATF presser, World Athletics Championships
Budapest, Hungary
August 19-27, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris

Since then, it’s been all about Lyles. The razzmatazz and panache that ooze around him make him an ideal candidate for the fans. It doesn’t take anything away from Kerley. He just needs to get back to reckoning with some convincing wins later this year. Perhaps, as Lyles did last year when he ran the 60m indoors to help finetune his start, Kerley will make amends to some key aspects of his race.  Regardless, his legacy can get back on track if he wins in Paris.

Digital poster from World Athletics of Fred Kerley and Noah Lyles