DES MOINES — Kenny Bednarek's first step in his quest to compete for Team USA wasn't the prettiest first step.
The following steps, however, led Bednarek on to a prime time stage with a shot to earn a shot at the world championships. The most prolific sprinter in the history of Indian Hills Community College track and field won opening round and semifinal round heats in the men's 200-meter men's dash at the Toyota USA Outdoor Championships.
Bednarek won the third heat in the first round of the XFinity 200 meter dash, advancing the Sunday's semifinals in 20.843 seconds. The NJCAA national champion added a win in the first of two semifinal heats on Sunday in 20.07, the fastest-qualifying time for the finals.
Facing two of the best sprinters in the country, Noah Lyles and Christian Coleman, Bednarek's run for a national championship ended in the final turn of the final race. The Drake Relays 200-meter champion pulled up with a hamstring injury before limping home for an eighth-place finish in 45.34 seconds, ending his bid at qualifying for his first World championship opportunity.
I’ve never had a hamstring issue in my life," Bednarek said. "I know I would’ve made the team if that didn’t sneak up on me. I didn’t lose strength in it, so that’s a plus. It’s not to serious and I know I’ll be back better than ever.
"It’s been a long season and I’ve proven that I belong on this stage. I have nothing else to prove this year."
The youngest runner in the field in just his first month as a professional athlete, Bednarek's first foray into the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field championships almost ended with an early misstep. Bednarek initially slowed immediately after the gun sounded to open the third heat in Saturday's first round of the 200 meter dash.
"I stopped running for a little bit," said Bednarek after starting, and slowing up momentarily, at the start of his race. "The echo I heard (after the starting gun fired) made me think someone had false started."
Despite the momentary stall, Bednarek still posted the 13th-best time in the first round of the 200. The former IHCC national champion beat Marqueze Washington in the heat by 0.19 seconds.
The top-three place winners from Sunday's 200 final (Lyles, Coleman and Ameer Webb) will represent Team USA at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar, being held Sept. 27-Oct. 6. Bednarek's run on Saturday was his first trip back to Drake Stadium since winning the Drake Relays 200-meter title back in April, leading to a whirlwind three months that saw Bednarek win a pair of NJCAA outdoor national titles at IHCC before officially turning professional early this summer.
“I just feel like I'm in shape and all that stuff," Bednarek said. "When I went over to Europe, there was a lot of factors. I lost my luggage, some stress first time going over there. So it's just a bunch of stuff, that factored in and you know, you gotta reset, you know? Because, you know, I've been running since December, it’s a long season.”
Bednarek signed with Nike earlier this month and moved to Florida to train for the championships. The native of Rice Lake, Wisconsin, has been training with former world champion and Olympic medalist Justin Gatlin.
“It’s really hot (training in Florida), so I had to get used to that for awhile but now i’m kind of acclimated to it," Bednarek said. “It wasn’t my decision, but you know Nike wanted to send me somewhere so I just kind of listened. So you know, they know what they’re doing. It’s all you know just going to trust the process.”
It was just one year ago that Bednarek was preparing to continue his track and field career at Indian Hills Community College after failing to academically qualify for a major four-year program. After the success of the past spring, Bednarek and IHCC head track and field coach Brett Ewing agreed it was time to the 20-year-old sprinter to turn professional.
“I said it before, I had a goal to go to University after JUCO, but obviously God a different plan," Bednarek said. "I ran faster than I expected but I knew I had the talent and all that stuff to get here. But, you know, it came sooner than later.”
Bednarek has produced some of the top times in the country in the 100 and 200 meters. Initially, Bednarek had plans on testing himself in the quarter-mile distance on the next level.
“I came out of high school with the 400 as my main event, but obviously you’ve seen what I’ve done with the 200 this year," Bednarek said. "So I kind of want to continue that, maybe in the years to come try to do the 100, but yeah I think the 200 is my main event right now.”