Rice Lake Native Kenny Bednarek Wins Silver During Olympic 200-Meter Dash

Bednarek Finishes Just 0.06 Seconds Behind Canadian Andre De Grasse

A man gives a peace sign to the camera after winning a sprint
Kenny Bednarek celebrates after winning the men’s 200-meter final during a Diamond League track meet in Doha, Qatar, Friday, May 28, 2021. Hussein Sayed/AP Photo

A runner with roots in Rice Lake has won a silver medal at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Kenny Bednarek finished the men’s 200-meter dash in 19.68 seconds Wednesday, just six hundredths of a second behind gold medal winner Andre De Grasse of Canada.

As Bednarek approached the starting block at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, his family and friends huddled in a garage in the northern Wisconsin city of 8,000 to watch a live feed of the race.

“You could have heard a needle hit the floor and it was quiet until that gun went off,” said Jared Sasada, Bednarek’s high school track and field coach in Rice Lake. “And then there is a lot of cheering and a lot of excitement and crying when you cross the finish line taking second.”

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Shortly after the 8 a.m. watch party, Bednarek’s mother Mary Ann and his sister Mary Alys were driving to Minneapolis to catch a flight bound for Florida where the U.S. Olympic track and field team is hosting a gathering for family members.

“I’m just trying to unwind,” said Mary Ann from the road. “My hands are still shaking.”

She said Kenny started running in second grade and to this day, his face lights up when he’s on the track.

“He was always the fastest kid in his class,” said Mary Ann. “And whenever I would pick him up from school, if they had a track meet, I go, ‘Well, how did you guys do?’ And they go, ‘Well, what do you think? We have, Kenny.”

Residents and businesses in Rice Lake have rallied around Bednarek during his pursuit of Olympic success, his mother said.

“There’s banners up everywhere, he’s on all the marquees. I mean, they put him up on Taco John’s” Mary Ann said with a laugh. “I was like, yes!”

Coach Sasada said even before Bednarek entered high school, he had a reputation as a top-level competitor among middle school coaches.

Sasada said he invited Bednarek to a high school varsity practice and had him run against some of his best 400 meter runners. Normally, Sasada said, middle school students aren’t able to keep up with high school runners.

“But him, on the other hand, at about the 250 mark, blew some of my best 400 kids out of the water,” said Sasada. “And that was kind of the moment in time where we were like, ‘Well, here we go.’”

In high school, Sasada said he brought Kenny to track meets across the country to “get some good competition.” He said Kenny dominated track events during the year he spent in college before going pro.

“And then getting to this point, it’s kind of this home,” said Sasada. “That’s where he belongs.”

Sasada said Team USA coaches could also select Bednarek to compete in the men’s 4×100 relay later this week.

Sister Mary Alys told WPR it’s been incredible watching her brother compete at a global level and she’s proud of all the things that have led up to winning silver in Tokyo.

“My mother says my brother runs like Secretariat, the horse,” said Mary Alys. “So, in many ways, seeing that today, it just reminds me so much of that strong, powerful energy that Secretariat had.”

Another Wisconsin native, Maddy Bernau of Waterford won Bronze in the Women’s mixed team trap shooting competition.

A total of 13 Wisconsin natives are competing in Tokyo in the 2021 Olympics and Paralympics.