IF FRED KERLEY seems like he has a chip on his shoulder, it might be understandable. Last year’s World No. 1, the 24-year-old Texan had been hearing all year from those who felt that this USATF title was Michael Norman’s for the asking. Even our formchart had Kerley down at No. 3, also behind NCAA champ Kahmari Montgomery, who had followed Norman in a 1–2 win over Kerley in June’s Pre meet.
After crossing the line victorious, Kerley repeatedly pounded his chest and shouted. It wasn’t joy on his face, but what looked like anger, though redemption might be a more accurate term. The reigning Diamond League champion won his second-straight national title and many of the reporters present reacted by calling it the biggest upset of the meet.
In the interview zone post-race, Kerley made his case. “Last year I was No. 1. I had a successful season—I was No. 1 in the world, but the media counted me out. But that’s what the media’s for, to post stuff against people,” said Kerley, impatient with the line of questioning. “Y’all still have other people above me. Same thing in ’17, you had people writing me off. But it’s track & field. I’m blessed to represent the USA at the World Championships.”
Kerley was challenged by one reporter who didn’t understand the concept of a No. 1 Ranking, insisting that, actually, Norman had the fastest time last year. “It’s track & field,” insisted Kerley. “You’ve just got to understand that anything can happen at any given point. Today was my day.” When asked what he was shouting after the race, he only said, “I’m the USA champion. I’m blessed so I can’t complain.”
Does he use perceived media slights for motivation? “I use everything for motivation. Where I come from, I use that as motivation. My parents, I use that as motivation… I take it as a blessing.”
For Kerley the formula for success is simple: “I listened to my coaches.” He returned to College Station and the coaching of Alleyne Francique last fall after a year in Arizona working with Altis. (“It didn’t work out for me. I won’t say anything bad about the program.”)
“I’m back to my old ways. I’m blessed to be back in the same position I was in ’17. I know where my capability is at.” It helps that Francique is in tune with Kerley. “He gets my mind ready. Track & field is a mental game so he gets my mental side prepared right. He understands where I come from.”
Kerley, though thrilled by his 43.64, admits it wasn’t the perfect race. “I executed the race. I made some mistakes in some parts, but you can’t take the race back. You just gotta go back to the drawing board.” And his plans for Doha? “Execute my race at the World Championship,” he said succinctly.