When Fred Curley was a young boy, sleeping on a pallet with 12 other children in one room in Texas, he dreamed of traveling the world. Instead, on a night of impossible drama in Eugene, he conquers her.
In the desperate final steps of this world’s 100m final, Curley instinctively poked his chest and pushed his arms back like an aerodynamic Superman. While he was doing this, fellow countrymen Marvin Brassey and Trevon Brummel were straining, flailing, and losing shape. On the blurred finish, the 6-foot-3-inch Curley somehow climbed the line to grab gold in 9.86 seconds, with Brassie taking silver and Bronze Brommel in 9.88.
It was the first clean American sweep on the men’s 100m podium since Carl Lewis, Leroy Borrell and Dennis Mitchell in 1991. But long before the stadium announcer confirmed the score, the crowd started chanting “USA! USA!”, Curley was backing down. Straight up, and comically celebrating one of the sport’s greatest breaches to tales of affluence.
The bare bones of how Hollywood rejected the 27-year-old’s story to push the boundaries of the impossible. In the second his father was in prison and his mother was absent after taking “wrong turns in life”. And so his aunt Virginia adopted him and his four siblings and raised them with eight of her own in Taylor, a small town 30 minutes outside of Austin, under the tiniest of roofs. It was a tough upbringing, but Curley was always encouraged to dream and rise.
He then explained, “My brother and sisters and I were adopted by my Aunt Virginia.” “We had one bedroom. We were 13 people in one bedroom. We were on the pallet. At the end of the day, we all had fun, enjoying ourselves and doing great things right now.”
“What motivates me is what I come from and not being in the same predicament,” added Curley, whose biceps have been tattooed “auntie” and “mimi”—his pet name for her. “Keep on doing great things. You don’t want to be in the same situation you were when you were younger.”
Touchingly, he said, he’s now also talking to his parents. He said, “Every day.” “What happened before does not happen now.”
Along the way there were many moments of sliding doors. Curley wanted to be an American football player and only changed the sport after breaking his collarbone in the last game of his high school career. Until 2019, he was a 400m runner and was good enough to win a bronze medal at the world championships, before moving on to the 100m and 200m when his ankle felt a little sore at the 2021 US Olympic trials.
A month later he won a silver in the 100m in Tokyo – but finishing just 0.04 behind Marcel Jacobs left him deeply frustrated. Over the past 11 months, Curley hasn’t been able to stop himself from shouting “Push” whenever he once again watches a video of the Final. But at Eugene, this batch was timed to perfection.
“I saw my head in front of me,” he recalls. “He backed off early. You dived in time and got the job done. It’s amazing to get a clean sweep, the greats did in 1991 and the 2022 greats did that today.”
It was helped, of course, by Jacobs’ absence from the final, after sustaining a leg injury in the playoffs. While Tokyo bronze medalist Andre de Grasse has been a shadow of his former self after injuries and Covid. But Curley, as he did so many times in his life, captured the day.
But everyone on the medal podium had a story worth amplifying. For example, Brassie ran in the 2016 Olympics before crashing his arm in the NFL – only to later break it in his first game in a developmental league in 2019.
“I made the decision at the time to get back on track,” said Prause, who has spent stints at the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks. But challenges still mount. His silver medal came after a ruptured appendix and intestinal obstruction, which caused him to carry eight pins from his belly button to his pelvic area.
And Bromell? Well, he spent close to $300,000 between 2016 and 2019 to repair a badly damaged Achilles tendon that put him out of the Rio Olympics. In 2018, things got so bad that he wrote a draft letter to his agent announcing his retirement. “It’s hard to wake up sometimes,” he said Saturday night. “In practice, my ankles crack, my hips crack. I look like an old man. But nights like this make it all worth it.”
In another era, these stories will be absorbed into the mainstream of sports and life in the United States: amplified and celebrated. no more. Even in Eugene, which calls itself Tracktown USA, the 15,000-seat Hayward Field was probably only 80% full.
There may still be time to turn things around, especially if Curley wins more medals in the 200m and 4x100m relay. It certainly helps that it also helps that he’s a Renaissance man, with tattoos on his body and a love for plants. “My crops are actually doing well,” he said. “Before I left, I cut some squash. I ate spinach out of the garden and it was amazing.”
With this, he slapped his left muscle and smiled. But the new Popeye athletics isn’t just thinking about adding more muscle on the track. He also wants to inspire the next generation. He said, “Every day a handful of young men look at me.” “If I can do it, they can do it.”
What a story. What a performance. And what a human being too.
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