World champs preview: In an open 100m field who wins gold, Hughes, Kerley or will there be a surprise?

By World Athletics August 14, 2023
(l-r) Zharnel Hughes, Fred Kerley, Rohan Watson and Terrence Jones. (l-r) Zharnel Hughes, Fred Kerley, Rohan Watson and Terrence Jones.

Not since Paris in 2003 has the men’s 100m title been claimed by a sprinter from outside the US or Jamaica. Could 2023 in Budapest be the time and place for someone to follow in the footsteps of Kim Collins by bringing an end to the 20-year-old duopoly?

The event appears to be as open as it was in the French capital two decades ago, when Collins put St Kitts and Nevis on the global track and field map. No-one stands out as a clear favourite, though Fred Kerley perhaps ought to be considered the main contender.

The 6ft 3in Texan is the reigning champion, having led a US medal sweep on home soil in Oregon last year ahead of Marvin Bracy-Williams and Trayvon Bromell. US sprinters have won the last three golds and Kerley will lead the starred and striped challenge in Budapest, supported this time by Cravont Charleston, the 2019 world champion Christian Coleman and two-time world 200m champion Noah Lyles, a potential ‘surprise’ packet.

Kerley has contested just five 100m races this season, two of them in the Seiko Golden Grand Prix in Yokohama in May, where he clocked a season’s best of 9.88. He registered comfortable victories on the Diamond League circuit in Rabat and Florence, both in 9.94, but was edged out in a tight finish in Silesia on 16 July, South Africa’s Akani Simbine taking the win in 9.97 with Kerley and Cameroon’s Emmanuel Eseme clocking 9.98 in second and third, and the newly-crowned US champion Charleston fourth in 9.99.

Ahead of Kerley on the 2023 world list stand two potential challengers in Britain’s Zharnel Hughes (9.83) and Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala (9.84).

When Hughes, a qualified pilot, flew to his 9.83 clocking in New York on 24 June, he sliced 0.04 off the ancient national record held by the only British sprinter to have claimed the world 100m title, Linford Christie, who triumphed in Stuttgart 30 years ago. Should he strike gold in Budapest, the native Anguillan would make it five wins in the event for his Jamaican coach, Glen Mills, the sprint guru who guided Usain Bolt to victory in 2009, 2013 and 2015, and also Yohan Blake in 2011.

“Obviously people are going to target the time I’ve run,” said Hughes, who won the European 200m title last year, “but I don’t put pressure on myself. That’s when things can go topsy turvy.”

Hughes, who false started in the Olympic final two years ago, has no other official sub-10 to his name in 2023, although he won the British title in 10.03 in monsoon conditions and smashed John Regis’ 30-year-old national 200m record with 19.73 for third place behind Lyles (19.47) and Botswana’s Letsile Tebogo (19.50) in the London Diamond League meeting on 23 July.

Omanyala is the only man who has dipped under 9.90 twice this year, the Commonwealth champion backing up his 9.84 from the Kip Keino Classic in May with 9.85 in the Kenyan trials on 8 July. The former rugby player has yet to make a global 100m final but has been a consistent performer on the Diamond League stage, placing third in Rabat, second in Florence and Paris and first in Monaco, and is not lacking in confidence.

Simbine’s victory ahead of Kerley in Silesia will have raised his hopes of finally making a global podium – and winning the race to become Africa’s first medal winner in the event. The 29-year-old South African has long been the ‘nearly’ man of the 100m: fifth in London in 2017, fourth in Doha in 2019 and fifth in Oregon last year, as well as fourth and fifth in the last two Olympic finals. With four successive wins behind him (in Kladno, Ostrava, Stockholm and Silesia), he heads to Hungary with serious momentum.

The African challenge promises to be fierce. Like Simbine and Omanyala, Eseme and Tebogo have also notched top three finishes on the Diamond League circuit, while Simbine’s South African teammate Shaun Maswanganyi has a 9.91 clocking to his name.

A place on the podium might not be beyond the scope of all four US sprinters – including Lyles, who beat Omanyala and Tebogo to win the 100m at the Paris Diamond League and was recovering from Covid when he took third place in the US Championships. He boasts a PB of 9.86.

A new kid on the senior international block, the 20-year-old Bahamian Terrence Jones who won the NCAA indoor 60m title in March, has run 9.91.

The Jamaican challenge will be led by Oblique Seville, who finished fourth in Oregon last year, and the emerging Rohan Watson, who started the year with a best of 10.41 but won the Jamaican title in 9.91. Ackeem Blake stands fourth on the world list with 9.89 but, having placed fourth in the trials, is on the entry list as a reserve.

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