Rice Lake legend Kenny Bednarek’s journey to the Olympics

Updated: Jul. 29, 2021 at 10:00 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - When you think of the fastest man in the world, you think of Usain Bolt. One sprinter from Wisconsin wants to change that, next week.

In high school he was known as Kenny the Jet. Now, he’s Kung Foo Kenny.

“He was very uncoordinated as a youngster I would have never ever imagined he’d be where he is now when he was four and five years old. I was like boy he’s clumsy,” said Kenny’s mother, Mary Ann Bednarek.

So, how did go from being a clumsy little kid to being the fastest on the track?

“I don’t know I really don’t know ... he still has his moments, and we laugh over it actually,” said Mary Ann.

“When you would see him on the track you could see that was where he was happiest … When he was little, I called him my Secretariat. I remember watching Secretariat win by 32 lengths himself and that was Kenny!”

She knew he was fast, but she could not fathom just what that meant until later in Kenny’s running career.

“Big shout out to Coach Sasada because he was like he’s really special and I was like I know he’s my kid and he’s like no no no you don’t understand and at that time as a freshman I didn’t understand I just thought he was Kenny and he runs,” Mary Ann said.

“The first time I saw him run was his eighth-grade year. We had heard from the middle school coaches that this kid was pretty quick. Well, a lot of times you hear that and you’re like ok a lot of times they’re middle school fast when they get to high school, they don’t quite match up it takes them a little bit ... We had him run a 400 against one of our guys and at the 250 mark he blew them away,” Jared Sasada said.

Both Coach Sasada and Kenny’s mother still remember a turning point in Kenny’s journey. He was a freshman in high school making his WIAA state debut.

“He came in second and I thought that’s God’s way of saying he’s not ready to cope with all of that,” said Kenny’s mother.

“It was a wakeup call when he lost those races at state ... that flipped the switch because he wanted to keep getting better and better,” said Sasada.

From that point on, the challenge became finding good enough competition for Kenny. Coach sasada says he had to become his own competition.

“Essentially, it became a race against the clock a race against himself how low could he get the school record,” Sasada said.

Now, Kenny is up against the toughest competition he has ever faced. At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“Like he said I’m used to it being me against the clock but now I’m on the pro stage, so it won’t be that easy. there’s always going to be people around me when I’m running so I got to make sure I just focus on my race .. if I just focus on me and my running, I’ll be fine,” Kenny said.

But he wants to be more than fine. He wants to be the greatest.

“My whole goal is to be the best to ever do it. To be faster than Bolt,” said Kenny.

“His brother would tease him and say you’re going to be the next Usain Bolt … and that’s his goal. To be the fastest guy in the world,” Mary Ann said.

“When you look at the competition the closest competition he has is here in the US and he races them all the time ... I really don’t think there’s anything that can stop him from taking the gold medal and being the fastest 200 kid,” said Sasada.

No matter what happens on the track, Kenny’s mom wants people to know, while her son has certainly become stronger and faster since he left Wisconsin, at the core, he is the same.

“He’s always been very shy and humble, and he always told me if I get cocky you tell me mom ... so, one time he was mouthing off and I said OK mister cocky man and he said mom! Oh, wait you told me to tell you that so I’m going to work on that,” said Mary Ann.

“I have good people around me that keep me grounded,” said Kenny.

While Coach Sasada can be credited with guiding Kenny’s moves on the track, what makes Kenny soar is his heart.

“I called him during the start of our season here and was like hey I’ve got some under-privileged kids here who can’t afford track spikes and he said I got you and sent over some spikes for the kids ...Plus he’s not a shoe hoarder I talked to him the other day and he said I wear them, until they are worn out,” Sasada said.

Its suspected all of that comes from his journey to get to the top.

“A lot of people turned their back on him because they thought he was a fluke. He aint a fluke,” said Sasada.

And while he continues to prove it, Mary Ann says she’s prepared for her stomach to turn. Meanwhile, Kenny’s routine will stay the same.

“Fist pumps, take deep breaths and mentally and physically prepare myself. Meditate a couple hours before and just keep myself in a good mindset,” Kenny said.

Before he left for Tokyo, he had one message to those who helped him reach this point.

“Thank you for the support and I’ll make sure to represent them well out there and I’ll make sure to bring the gold home,” said Kenny.

Keep an eye out for his Olympic debut in the first round of the men’s 200 meter on Monday. In addition to the 200, he will also have a chance at gold a week from tomorrow in the four by one hundred relay final.

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