Michael Cherry competes in the Men's 400-meter during the Wanda Diamond League 2021 Memorial Van Damme Athletics competition on Sept. 3, 2021 in Brussels, Belgium.
For Team USA, the Diamond League final was the cherry on top of the 2021 season.
That would be Michael Cherry, who won the Diamond League Trophy in the men’s 400, joining five other American champions Thursday in Zurich – Quanera Hayes, Devon Allen, Fred Kerley, Kenny Bednarek and Valarie Allman. Two other Team USA champs – Ryan Crouser and Maggie Ewen - were crowned a day earlier.
“This season started off wild crazy,” Cherry tweeted, “but it’s not how you start it’s how you finish!!!”
Cherry had to dive at the finish line to edge Kirani James of Grenada, who had beaten him a month earlier to snag the Olympic bronze medal.
James had the early lead in the race, but Cherry overtook him on the final straightaway. Both were gritting their teeth at the finish, with Cherry going low to throw his torso across the line first. He then tumbled to the track while James kept his feet for two more strides before also falling down.
Cherry was already smiling before he got up. His winning time was 44.41 while James, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2016 silver medalist, was clocked in 44.42.
“It was a hard race,” Cherry said. “Kirani always gives me a battle.”
Cherry has now run 14 of his 15 races this season under 45 seconds, with his personal best 44.03 on Sept. 3 to win the Diamond League in Brussels. “Consistency wins,” he tweeted, adding, “43 I’ll see you soon” with a kiss emoji.
Cherry posted a new profile picture of him kissing the giant diamond on the trophy, which isn’t real, but the award comes with $30,000 in prize money.
Cherry said after he finished fourth in Tokyo, which was the best placement by a Team USA athlete in the event, “I was a little disappointed for like four weeks. The Olympic Games gave me a lot of experience and also a confidence that I can fight with the best in the world, so I am sure I can get even better next season.”
He already has a head start. As the Diamond League champion, Cherry earns an automatic berth at the 2022 World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, which means Team USA can send four athletes if they meet the qualifying standard in the race.
The same holds true in the women’s 400, where Hayes held off the Olympic silver medalist Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic, who lunged at the line. Hayes, looking composed and in control, ran a time of 49.88 seconds, just off her lifetime best of 49.72, while Paulino’s time was 49.96.
Hayes, the U.S. Olympic Trials champion, was seventh in Tokyo, where her time of 50.88 seconds cost her a berth on the 4 x 400-meter relay team. Allyson Felix, who did not compete in Zurich, won the Olympic bronze medal in the 400 and helped the relay team win gold.
But now it’s Hayes who has a bye into the world championships.
“It’s like night and day here compared to Tokyo,” Hayes said of the crowd at Letzigrund Stadium after the empty stands at the Olympics due to Covid-19 restrictions. “It’s amazing, truly amazing. I really was not expecting to run this fast.”
But she took her time leaving the track.
“I am such a sucker for kids and all the kids wanted autographs, so I honestly couldn’t say no because I love kids,” said Hayes, who is the mother of a toddler. “Just to see them happy and to see them smile, although I was really tired, it was really worth it.”
Men's Sprint Sweep
With 25 titles on the line Thursday in Zurich, Cherry started a Team USA men’s sprint sweep. After his win in the 400, Kerley won the 100 and Bednarek captured the 200 title. Both were Olympic silver medalists in those events.
Kerley, who won the 100 last week in Brussels to become the only man in history to win Diamond League races in the 100, 200 and 400, was one of four Americans in Zurich in the 100. Three years ago, he won the Diamond League Trophy in the 400.
Ronnie Baker, who was fifth in Tokyo, had a great start to move into the early lead, but Kerley and Andre De Grasse of Canada, the Olympic bronze medalist, closed the gap. Kerley powered through the final meters to take the win in 9.87 seconds, followed by De Grasse, who equaled his personal best of 9.89 seconds. Baker was third (9.91) and Trayvon Bromell, the U.S. Olympic Trials champion who did not make the final in Tokyo, was fourth (9.96).
After Kerley crossed the finish line he kept running, showing he had plenty of energy left for the 200 meters just 74 minutes later.
But this race belonged to Bednarek, known as “Kung Fu Kenny,” who wore a gold head tie. From Lane 7, he got out in front and held off De Grasse, the Olympic gold medalist in the event, 19.70 seconds to 19.72. Kerley was third in 19.83 seconds.
Bednarek, who missed Usain Bolt’s meet record from 2012 by .04 of a second, has now run 13 sub-20-second 200s.