Instagram has given us a Super rivalry. Marcell Jacobs versus Fred Kerley, and Deji Ogeyingbo thinks this type of rivalry could give the sport just what it needs! A great rivalry!

Athletics find its next global rivalry in Kerley vs. Jacobs, but can it be worth our while? 

The track world was thrown into a surprise mania on Monday (April 17), when Olympic 100m Champion Marcell Jacobs and World 100m Champion Fred Kerley threw barbs at each other about racing each other for the ultimate prize; the title of the world’s fastest man. The word is usually thrown around loosely, considering there can be different variations to which sprinter holds the mantle at any given time. 

Marcell Jacobs, 60m world champion, photo by Getty Images for World Athletics

On the surface, there ideally should be a race to decide who becomes the fastest athlete between the winners of the two major titles. It just has to happen. Like in boxing, the battle for the undisputed heavyweight boxer goes to the fighter who holds all three major belts: IBO, WBO, and WBA. 

Guess what? There is little allure for athletes, agents, and meet managers to promote such a race in track, as even the world body is majorly concerned about hosting the world championships every two years. That has led to a downward spiral of the 100m appeal that sports fans only have to wait for 24 months to witness two or more elite runners slug it out for the title of the fastest man in the world. Any serious governing body should face a firing squad for such an anomaly. 

Marcell Jacobs, photo by PUMA Running

What, then, is the solution? Kerley and Jacobs have thrown down the gauntlet at each other with their barbs. It all started when Kerley appeared on the Sprint Culture podcast. He was asked to comment on the Italian sprinter’s indoor performance. Subtly taking a dig at Jacobs, Kerley stated “real dogs” play outdoors. His response didn’t sit well with Jacobs, who later took to his Instagram to reply back to Kerley.

The reply from Jacobs he posted a picture on his Instagram story of the two athletes moments away from finishing one of their races. In the image, Jacobs was ahead of the American sprinter. Adding a caption, he wrote, “Whenever you want and wherever you want, but remember that when it mattered more, it ended like this.” 

Fred Kerley in Melbourne, photo by Maurie Plant Meeting 2023/ContinentalWorldTour

It was epic, and it might have just sparked a new rivalry that fans have been craving for, Perhaps to the degree we saw Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin go at it for about three years before the Jamaican retirement in 2017. This sort of Jive talking between both is what athletics has been craving for a while, and we finally have it between two of the fastest men in the world in the last two years. 

In fact, both of these sprinters have run the fastest two times in the world in the last 24 months, with Kerley going 9.79s and Jacobs recording 9.80 in Tokyo. This lays the groundwork for what should be a race for the ages. But will it happen? Kerley’s reply tilted towards the Diamond League (World Athletics top-tier international meets), making the race happen. 

Marcell Jacobs, Olympic Champion, World Indoor Champion, European Champion, photo by PUMA Running

The issue with the Diamond League making the race happen is that both athletes won’t be adequately compensated for the value and allure they would bring. Any meet organizer will also have to dig deep and pay other marquee athletes that will be attending. Maybe the Prefontaine classic could stomp up such a huge amount of cash in excess of $1 million, but this is a race best suited for a separate promoter (one with an eye and history of getting the best financial outcome out of a sporting showpiece) to handle. It sparks memories of the Michael Johnson vs. Donovan Bailey 150m race at the then SkyDome in Toronto in 1997.,

The race had some 30,000 spectators fill the massive baseball/football stadium, and 2.5 million people watched the CBC’s live broadcast of what felt like a heavyweight title fight. You could just sense the Euros’ disapproval when the boisterous crowd wouldn’t quiet down as expected for the start.

Lamont Marcell Jacobs of Italy in action during the ATHLETICS – MEN’S 100M SEMIFINAL at Olympiastadion during the European Championships 2022 on August 16, 2022, in Munich, Germany. Photo: Thomas Niedermueller / Munich2022

How does the Kerley vs. Jacobs show pan out? The Europeans, who are seen as the ‘holders’ of athletics, have always been seen as conservative with athletics and not very open to groundbreaking ideas that can change the direction of the sport, while the Americans are open to innovations that can commercialize the sport. The more reason the direction of this race is tilting towards happening in North America. 

Promoters in the United States offered Bailey and Johnson an appearance fee of $500,000 each and an additional $1 million for the winner. No athlete can make boast of having earned this sort of money on the track since Usain Bolt. And he was a freak of nature. The outlier. 

In the World Men’s 100m final, Fred Kerley leads the US to sweep World Athletics Championships
Eugene, Oregon, USA
July 15-26, 2022
100-meter final, photo by Kevin Morris

Athletics is at the point where it needs to promote itself better, and what better way to do it than by pitting the world’s fastest men against each other. The backstory, the pride, the trash-talking, and, most importantly, the intrigue it gives to fans cannot be matched. Whether the duel can stand the test of time remains to be seen. 

But that’s the thing about elite sports. Someone needs to be willing to take that bold step, and the reward will be massive. Once executed well, the onus now lies with other athletes to chase the purse by running faster. The game is on!