Usain Bolt

For much of this century, sprinting has been dominated by the nation of Jamaica, particularly on the men’s side. Usain Bolt dominated both the world championships and Olympics so thoroughly from 2008 through 2016, and in the process became the first man to gold medals in the 100 and 200 in three consecutive Olympics. Bolt ultimately won eight gold medals and 11 world championship titles, retiring in 2017 as the world record holder in both the 100 and 200.

Since Bolt’s retirement, no one has emerged remotely as successful in both sprints. But last week at thus year’s World Championships, American sprinters achieved something that they hadn’t done in 31 years. Fred Kerley led the charge Saturday on an All-American night for track and field, headlining the first U.S. sweep of the sport’s marquee event, the men’s 100, since 1991.

“We said we were going to do it and we did it,” Kerley said in the on-track interview. All three sprinters were Black, with Kerley powering  through the line to finish in 9.86 seconds, beating both Marvin Bracy and the 2021 U.S. champion, Trayvon Bromell, by less than 0.02 seconds. The difference between second and third was 0.002.

It marked the first American sweep at the world meet since Carl Lewis, Leroy Burrell and Dennis Mitchell went 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 the group. This is one of the best groups of U.S. sprinters we’ve had in years.”

Track and field hasn’t enjoyed much of a spotlight in recent years other than during the Olympics. But this race was a reminder of an earlier era, when the U.S. dominated track. 

“It’s amazing to be around the greats,” Kerley said. “They did it in ’91, and now we did it in ’22.”Kerley, a 27-year-old Texan, came into Eugene as the favorite—the only sprinter to crack 9.8 seconds this year. His reward is a title in an event he didn’t start investing time in until the leadup to last year’s Olympics. In an interview on former U.S. sprinter Rae Edwards’s webcast earlier this year, Kerley explained the reason for the move down in distance.

“At the end of the day, nobody really comes to watch anything besides ‘The Fastest Man in the World,’” he said. “So if you ask me what I want to be, I want to be the Fastest Man in the World.”

Though that title doesn’t carry, at least in America, the clout that it did in the past, it’s still an impressive feat. It also sets up these three men as the favorites for the next Summer Olympics. Hopefully, it may also rekindle interest in track and field at the secondary school level in Black neighborhoods, as track internationally is still both popular and profitable.