SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - New American 400 metres champion Fred Kerley's power and speed makes the Texan the "special" sprinter that U.S athletics has been searching for to help reestablish its dominance of the event, former Olympic champion Quincy Watts has told Reuters.
Kerley, who was already the year's fastest man at 43.70 seconds, won his first U.S. championship at the American world championships trials on Saturday in 44.03.
His superb performance left 1992 Barcelona Olympic one-lap champion Watts enthusing about a 22-year-old who, he believes, possesses a rare talent.
"He's tall and has a lot of power, but what makes him special is he has a rare combination of speed and power," said Watts in an interview.
"We've seen it before, but maybe only four or five of the great ones."
The United States was once overwhelmingly dominant in the event with seven consecutive Olympic gold medals between 1984 and 2008, but the last two have been won by Kirani James, of Grenada, and Wayde van Niekerk, of South Africa.
"The United States needs a special guy to have a resurgence," Watts said. "Kerley is that guy.
"It's going to be exciting to see what the U.S. is going to do in the world championships and in the future."
The task will not be a simple one, though.
Awaiting Kerley and his American team mates at August's world championships in London will be Van Niekerk, who took down two-time U.S. Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson's world record in Rio de Janeiro with a stunning run of 43.03 seconds.
"Wayde has no weaknesses," said Watts.
"He has everything you need to run great. He has the stamina, he has the speed, he has the endurance and, most of all, he has the courage."
That was most evident from 300 to 400 metres, said Watts, now an assistant coach at the University of Southern California.
Van Niekerk also has range and speed, having run under 10 seconds in the 100 metres, sub-20 seconds in the 200 and on the cusp of sub-43 seconds in the 400.
Watts, who lost his U.S. collegiate record to Kerley this spring, also sees that same courage from Kerley late in the race.
"The only weakness in Kerley is that he is young," Watts said. "Now he has the opportunity to compete on the world-class level as a professional.
"Who knows, maybe two years from now we will see sub-43 from him."
Yet Watts also felt that to challenge Van Niekerk in London Kerley would have to be "prepared to compete at a high level and that particular high level may be a blistering first 200."
That was the major difference in running the 400 metres these days, said Watts, who clocked 43.50 when he triumphed in Barcelona.
"We were coming through there (200m) in 20.9, maybe 21.0, 21.2 seconds. These guys are coming through, like, 20.5, 20.6. That's where I see the matchup (in London)."
Editing by Ian Chadband