Track and Field

Sprinter Kenny Bednarek's meteoric rise impresses 200-metre Canadian champion

Canadian sprinters Aaron Brown and Andre De Grasse will go head-to-head over 200 metres on Friday in Doha, Qatar (CBCSports.ca, 12 p.m. ET) with U.S. standout Kenny Bednarek, fresh off a win in the Diamond League season opener, trying to steal the spotlight.

'His ability to run great curves is unique to this season,' says Toronto's Aaron Brown

Canada's Aaron Brown, left, will try for his first win in four attempts this season against his training partner, American standout Kenny Bednarek, right, when they race the 200 metres at Diamond League Doha on Friday. (Harry How/Getty Images)

When Kenny Bednarek signed with Nike and moved to Florida in the summer of 2019 to work with coach Dennis Mitchell, new training partner Aaron Brown saw a raw talent that didn't know a lot about sprinting.

Bednarek had flown under the radar early in his career at Indian Hills, a small junior college in Ottumwa, Iowa. But he raised eyebrows as a 20-year-old in May 2019 when he won the 200 metres in 19.82 seconds at the National Junior College Athletic Association national championships.

Bednarek also ran 44.73 at the event in the 400 to become the second man ever, and first American athlete, to break 20 seconds in the 200 and 45 seconds in the 400 on the same day. A year earlier, he was winning multiple state titles for Rice Lake High School in Wisconsin.

"He was gifted and I couldn't believe how fast he was running his workouts every day," Brown, the two-time defending Canadian champion in the 100 and 200, wrote in an email to CBC Sports on Wednesday from Doha, Qatar, where he will race Bednarek at Friday's Diamond League meet.

"I always thought once he figured out the specifics of his race strategy, he would be very tough to beat."

WATCH | Bouquet of questions with Aaron Brown:

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Watch Canadian Olympic sprinter Aaron Brown answer a variety of questions, like who he would want to play him in a movie, and what his good luck charm is. 3:56

The men's 200 will feature Brown, fellow Canadian Andre De Grasse and Bednarek.

By the time Brown saw Bednarek stop the clock in 19.80 last August at the Montverde Academy in Florida, the American speedster had matured as an athlete with the ability to execute his race pattern.

Pulled away from field in Gateshead

Brown is 0-for-3 this outdoor season against Bednarek, now 22, who was born in Tulsa, Okla. The closest matchup was at the USATF Golden Games on May 9 when Bednarek was edged at the line by reigning world champion Noah Lyles (19.90-19.94) in Walnut, Calif., with Brown finishing fourth in a season-best 20.26.

Last Sunday, Bednarek opened a lead off the curve in the rain in Gateshead, England, and increased it over the final 50 metres to clock a 20.30 winning time in a headwind to beat Brown (20.79) and De Grasse (20.85) at the Diamond League season opener.

"What he's been doing is not a surprise to me at all. His ability to run great curves is unique to this season," Brown said of Bednarek, who also runs the 100 and 400. "He can also finish with that 400-metre strength endurance to pull away at the end [of races]. His ability to [compete] from 100 to 400 metres like some of the other great athletes makes him a threat in the 200."

WATCH | Brown, De Grasse place 2nd, 3rd at Diamond League opener:

Canadians Aaron Brown and Andre De Grasse race to 200m Diamond League podium

5 months ago
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Toronto's Aaron Brown and Andre De Grasse of Markham, Ont. placed 2nd and 3rd in the 200m race at the Diamond League stop in Gateshead, United Kingdom. 1:53

De Grasse, the 2019 world silver medallist in the 200, has split two races with Bednarek this season, having also finished second in the 100 at the Tom Jones Memorial Invitational in April in Gainesville, Fla, where Bednarek was third.

After flashing his potential early in 2019, Bednarek suffered a hamstring injury at U.S. championships in July and failed to advance beyond the first round at worlds two months later because of a nerve flare-up. But it could be a different story this July at the Tokyo Olympics should Bednarek remain healthy, given his success this season.

Brown, meanwhile, is working on fixing "technical errors" in the 200 before facing a loaded field on Friday that features world No. 2 Ramil Guliyev of Turkey — the 2017 world champion — 2019 world 100 silver medallist Justin Gatlin, 39, making his 200 season debut, and eighth-ranked Adam Gemili of Great Britain.

"No Olympic medals will be awarded [Friday] so even though you always want to win and do your best, the important thing is to get better each race and work on the technical parts of the race," Brown said. "It's definitely a strong field and I'm excited to test myself against them."

Two other Canadians will compete at Qatar Sports Club in the 25th edition of the Doha meeting:

WATCH | Why Diamond League is so important heading into Tokyo 2020:

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Derek Drouin of Corunna, Ont., looks back at his gold medal performance in high jump at Rio 2016. 0:57

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

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