This is Deji Ogeyingbo’s feature of Kenny Bednarek and how his competitors need to take his racing seriously.

Is Kenny Bednarek’s 200m World Lead genuine or an artfully preserved facade

 

Here we go! Kenny Bednarek strikes first. Who would have guessed that the American sprinter would be the first athlete to run a sub-19.70s this season over the 200m? Expectedly, all the talks have been about Letsile Tebogo, Courtney Lindsey, and the world champion, Noah Lyles. But in Doha, Bednarek reached a new level of sprinting that shook the sprinting world.

With a World Lead, meeting record, and Personal Best of 19.67s, the American is now the man to catch at the moment over the distance. Truly, many didn’t see this coming from him. However, if you look closely, the signs have been there for the last few weeks. Bednarek seems to be in the best shape of his life at the moment, and the result in Doha is an indication that he’s intent on jostling for the bigger fish in the pond rather than playing second fiddle with other sprinters.

Kenny Bednarek wins the 100m at 2024 Kip Keino Classic, photo courtesy of KIP KEINO CLASSIC/Continental Tour Gold

The line-up over this Diamond League meet in Doha isn’t one you would hypothetically line up in a world championship final, but it still had some big guns whose potential was through the roof. There were five sprinters, including Bednarek, who had run sub-20s in their career in the past. Still, Bednarek turned on the afterburners to win by a margin of 0.34s. Lindsey, who had held the joint world lead over the half-lap, struggled for form with about 50m to go. So were the others.

 

Jeopardy, peril, parry, thrust, bumps in the road, boiling tempers, and fevered brows—these elements usually define an athlete’s journey leading up to the Olympics. Yet, Bednarek has chosen a different path. He’s disregarded these challenges, opting for a seamless journey toward excellence thus far.

Bednarek had opened up his season with a 100m win at the Tom Jones Memorial in Florida, clocking 10.01s. He only got the attention primarily because of his near win over his countryman, Lyles. The world champion had to crawl his way to get joint first place with Bednarek. Perhaps, if it was over the 200m, he would have surged past him, we can’t tell. But the win did a lot for his confidence.

What you get from Bednarek as a sprinter is the kind of faint electronic hum you associate with a household appliance you have long since taken for granted. A lot of people saw him in the light of being primarily a 200m sprinter. Maybe because there is a stereotype of these types of runners not having a great start. Lyles seems to be debunking that more recently as he has stepped down even beyond the 100m to the 60m.

A week after his win in Florida, Bednarek handed a defeat to the reigning African Champion Ferdinand Omanyala on his home soil at the Kip Kieno Classic. It was a dominant victory- 9.91s (+2.2m/s) over the rest of the field.

Perhaps one of Bednarek’s standout races this year was his second leg split for the US men’s 4x100m final race in the Bahamas. It seemed simple, but his grace on the track down that back straight as he zoomed past the reigning Olympic Champion Marcel Jacobs in 8.95s was pleasing to the eye, and that should have been the biggest indication of where he is physically and mentally.

For Bednarek, part of this intense calm from his racing is fueled by his experience of winning Silver medals at the 2020 Olympics and the 2022 World Championships: not only the knowledge of having been here before but the security that he has no chip on his shoulder going into the Olympics in Paris.

Of course, what remains to be seen is whether this is a real win or whether we are simply living through a skillfully maintained illusion of this world-leading over the 200m. Also, bewilderment about the rundown to the Olympics becomes inevitable when all of your rivals know the sort of shape you are in. This is Bednarek’s universe now, and even when you push at the walls, it is never entirely clear how much of it is real and how much projection.

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