Olympics: Rice Lake product Kenny Bednarek wins silver in men's 200 meters

Telegram readers may remember Bednarek as a four-time MVP of the Packy Paquette Indoor Invitational at Superior High School.

Noah Lyles (right) defeats Kenny Bednarek (left) and Erriyon Knighton (center) to win the 200m in 19.74 during the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, on Sunday, June 27, 2021. Bednarek beat Lyles and Knighton to take the silver medal in the Tokyo Olympics Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Kirby Lee / File / USA TODAY Sports

Rice Lake is home to an Olympic medalist. The town of 8,500 people was going wild Wednesday, Aug. 4, watching Kenny Bednarek win silver in the men's 200-meter dash at the Olympics in Tokyo.

Bednarek finished with a time of 19.68 seconds, a personal best. The 2018 Rice Lake High School graduate finished just six-hundredths of a second behind Canadian gold medalist Andre de Grasse. It's the highest finish for an American in the event since 2008.

The Bednarek support runs so rampant that there were two watch parties — a large one at Rice Lake High School, and another, more intimate gathering with Bednarek's family and close friends.

The latter is where Jared Sasada, Bednarek's former high school coach, watched the final and lived the excitement.

RELATED: Bednarek earns spot on US Olympic Team in 200-meter dash The Rice Lake graduate was named MVP of the Packy Paquette Indoor Invitational four years in a row. Now, he'll represent the United States on the sport's biggest stage.

The crowd watches the clock as Rice Lake’s Kenny Bednarek easily wins the 400 meter dash at the 2018 Packy Paquette Invite in Superior. (Jed Carlson/

"It was exhilarating. At the start of the race, it was very, very quiet. You could hear a pin drop," Sasada said. "And then it got pretty loud in there, I'll tell you that.'

And, when Bednarek crossed the finish line second, "the whole room that we were in just absolutely erupted."

"There was cheering, there was some crying, there was a lot of things. We've been talking about it for so long, and to actually see it happening was absolutely remarkable," said Sasada, who now works in Tomah, Wisconsin. "It was so exhilarating for that to happen. I think most of us felt like we had just run the 200."

Joseph Fahnbulleh, the defending NCAA champion in this event for Florida, was attempting to win Liberia's first Olympic medal. And at 19 years of age, he'll have plenty more opportunities to do that.

Fahnbulleh trailed by a large gap through the first 100 meters but, as he's known to do, charged to the finish line to claim a top-5 finish in his first Olympic Games. That's an incredible feat, but doesn't quite meet the expectations Fahnbulleh, the Minnesota high school state record-holder in the 100 and 200 meters, set for himself before departing for Tokyo.

"It's top three or bust," he said pre-Olympics. "It is top three or I didn't do anything at the Olympics, period, and I will try again next time in Paris."


Look out, Paris.

Sasada remembers when he was coaching Bednarek and teaching at the middle school in Rice Lake, an assistant principal asked if he thought Bednarek could one day reach the Olympics.

"Absolutely," Sasada responded.

Sure, it would take work, but there was no doubt Bednarek would be up for that. Consider in high school, there was no one who could keep up with and push him on the track, yet he found ways to improve.

Bednarek won seven individual state titles at Rice Lake, and led the Warriors to a relay and a team title. Bednarek was named MVP of the Packy Paquette Indoor Invitational at Superior High School four years in a row. He even played a large role in a Rice Lake state football championship in 2018. Bednarek ran a 200-meter time of 20.43 seconds as a senior, the top high school time in the nation in 2018.

And still, Sasada noted Bednarek didn't get a ton of national attention. Such was the case in these Olympics until the final. There were three Americans in the field, and Bednarek was a distant third in broadcast attention, trailing world champion Noah Lyles and 17-year-old Erriyon Knighton.

That was a discussion at the watch party Wednesday.

"He doesn't really get a ton of press coverage, even though he's gone out and beat these people and all these different things. It was the world champ, it was the next Usain Bolt, whatever it may be," Sasada said. "Flying under the radar, he's done that his entire career."


Sasada said Bednarek's second-place finish Wednesday wasn't a shock to anyone in the room.

"I think this was exactly what a lot of us thought," he said. "We know what he's capable of."

And they also know there is much more to come in the 22-year-old's career, beginning with the 4×100 relay, which opened with prelims Wednesday evening Central time and will conclude with the final at 8:50 a.m. Central on Friday.

"He just continues to keep getting better," Sasada said. "He focuses on himself. He wants to make everybody proud. He knows people are watching. He still stays laid back but, essentially it's a job that he's got to do and he goes out there and he just wants to do the best, not only for himself, but for everybody that's around him, as well."

That effort is greatly appreciated by those back home.

"I think especially with the pandemic that took place, for people to have something to start cheering for and coming together in that aspect was huge," Sasada said. "It's great to see not only people coming together, but all the comments, all the people posting pictures and saying things about Kenny and you see on social media, former people who competed against him saying how they loved to try to push themselves to try to keep up with him, all those things.

"It's great to see the entire community, and even the state of Wisconsin, coming together. It's absolutely remarkable and amazing to see."

The Superior Telegram contributed to this report.

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