EUGENE, Ore. – Noah Lyles crouched down, put his hands on his knees and stared at the clock. Not seeing what he was hoping for, he waved his hand and went back on track to celebrate the still long-awaited 200m World Championships win.
Oh, but this night would only get better.
The clock, which momentarily read “7:32 p.m.,” would tick down to “7:31 p.m.” In doing so, he broke Michael Johnson’s hallowed 26-year-old American record – a mark that seemed unattainable for decades.
“I was very concerned that that number would turn from a ‘2’ to a ‘1’,” admitted Lyles after Thursday night’s historic win.
Then, a few seconds later, the scoreboard appeared, initially showing only Lyles’ name, with the names of the two finishers behind him: Kenny Bednarek and Erriyon Knighton of the USA. The US had just swept the 200 as it had done the 100 four nights earlier.
Lyles slammed his hand on the track four times, got up straight and ripped off his jersey. He snatched his medal from the presenter, then walked over to his family and hugged them and picked up an American flag – one of many needed at the first World Championships in the United States.
The sweep gave the US 22 medals in seven days.
“America takes medals left and right, so to speak,” Lyles said. “This feels great because I’ve been waiting for America to come out and dominate since I came on the platform.”
Lyles’ 19.31 was the third fastest time in history, behind only Usain Bolt’s 19.19 in 2009 and a 19.26 run two years later by another Jamaican, Yohan Blake, while briefly pushing Bolt to dominance.
But Johnson and those gold shoes that crossed the finish line in 19:32 at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics also hold a titanic place in athletics history. Johnson performed it 352 days before Lyle was born. The number ‘19.32’ has been teasing and deriding for decades – a particularly impressive sign for any fast kid with big dreams in the early 2000s.
“I didn’t want to see ’32’, I didn’t want to share a record,” Lyles said of his immediate reaction after the race. “Nobody wants to share a record. I think even Michael Johnson doesn’t want to share a record. So I just asked to change them.”
BACK-TO-BACK 🥇 AND A NEW AMERICAN 200M RECORD FOR NOAH LYLES 🤩
— Sports Center (@Sports Center) July 22, 2022
Hours after the win, Johnson was on the track speaking to Lyles while a few dozen fans dove into the scene. Lyles said they had never met. Johnson raised Lyle’s arm in the air as fans snapped photos of the former and new American record holder.
“He just said he had a great race,” Johnson told an Associated Press reporter when asked what they talked about. “He said he worked harder than ever. I thought he took a great corner. And so it was fantastic.”
Lyles’ win came shortly after Shericka Jackson gave the Jamaican women another sprint gold. She ran 21.45, the second-fastest time in history, to beat her teammate, 100-meter champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce by 0.16.
Only defending champion Dina Asher-Smith of Great Britain, who won bronze, prevented Jamaica from a duel.
Jackson’s time is only shorter than Florence Griffith-Joyner’s time of 21:34 at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Jackson said her win was fueled by a mistake at last year’s Olympics, where she slowed on the corner and finished fourth in her heat. She called it a silly mistake that she hadn’t even looked at.
“I never wanted that because I never wanted it to cross my mind and think it could happen again,” she said.
While the Jamaican medalists were the same as four nights earlier – Olympic gold medalist Elaine Thompson-Herah, who won bronze in the 100, finished seventh in that race – the Americans fielded an entirely different trio in the stands.
Fred Kerley, Marvin Bracy and Trayvon Bromell dominated the 100. This time it was Lyles, Bednarek – the Olympic silver medalist who broke his toe at home pitching a cabinet in December – and Knighton, who is now the youngest individual sprinter medalist in history the track world championship.
Knighton’s 19.49 earlier this year made him a slight favorite in that race and established what has been touted as a rivalry with Lyles. It was 25-year-old Lyles, who beat Knighton at Nationals last month, waving his finger as he crossed, a not-so-subtle message that he would not yield to his younger rival.
“Everyone worked hard to be great and they did,” Knighton said. “I mean, he broke the American record.”
But Lyles would be the first to admit his biggest competitor in recent years has been himself. He was once thought of as the racetrack’s solution to the Bolt problem – who turns to capture the eyeballs after the sport’s most oversized personality retires.
But the pandemic struck.
Lyles, who considers himself an entertainer at heart, suffered from traveling alone and competing to empty seats. He was undaunted by his mental health issues and how difficult it was not being able to ride alongside his brother Josephus, who is in this week’s US relay pool.
“The sanity that I had in that moment is also what makes this moment great,” Lyles said. “Because it shows that you can get through a dark storm and get out of it better.”
This week the crowds were back and traveling to Oregon was easy. Lyles said he feels more “me” than he has in a while.
Then he came out and ran like that.
Although time tells best, the race he ran was a beauty indeed.
With machine-like arms, his 5-foot-11 frame — two inches shorter than Johnson and half a foot shorter than Bolt — pumped and hugged the inside line of Lane 6 as he rounded the corner. After that it was over. By the time Lyles reached the straight, he and Bednarek on lane 5 were separated by two body lengths. When Lyles reached the finish line, the gap between him and second place was three full paces.
“This is definitely the beginning of my life,” Lyles said of his first 100 meters.
The second 100 wasn’t bad either.
“And it’s only going to get faster,” he said.
https://www.espn.com/olympics/story/_/id/34278519/noah-lyles-wins-200-meter-world-title-track-field-championships-us-men-finish-1-2-3 Sprinter Noah Lyles sets American record in 200 meters, wins world title in 19.31 seconds as U.S. men take top 3 spots at track and field championships