Lyles wins 200m world title in U.S.-record 19.31

Lyles wins 200m world title in U.S.-record 19.31

07/22/2022

EUGENE, Ore. — Noah Lyles crouched down, put his hands on his knees and glared at the clock. Not seeing what he’d hoped for, he waved his hand dismissively and walked back toward the track to celebrate what was still a long-awaited win Thursday in the 200 meters at the world championships.

Oh, but this night would just keep getting better.

The clock that, for a moment, read “19.32,” would adjust down a tick to “19.31.” That meant he broke Michael Johnson’s hallowed, 26-year-old American record — a mark that, for decades, seemed unreachable.

And then, the scoreboard that, at first, only had Lyles’ name on it, popped up with the names of the two finishers behind him. Kenny Bednarek and Erriyon Knighton of the U.S. The Americans swept the 200, just as they had the 100 four nights earlier.

Lyles pounded his hand on the track four times, stood up straight and ripped off his jersey. He grabbed his medal from the presenter, then went over and hugged his family and grabbed an American flag — one of many that have been needed at these championships on home turf. The sweep gave the U.S. 22 medals through seven days.

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 he was briefly pushing Bolt for supremacy.

But Michael Johnson and those gold shoes he wore to run his 19.32 at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 have a pretty big place in track history, too.

“I saw the time pop up and saw I tied Michael Johnson’s record,” Lyles said. “I was like ‘Really, you’re going to do me like that?’ Then, that number changed from two to a one and my whole world changed.”

His victory came moments after Shericka Jackson gave the Jamaican women another gold in the sprints. She ran 21.45, the second-fastest time in history, to beat 100-meter champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

Only defending champion Dina Asher-Smith of Britain, who won bronze, prevented a back-to-back Jamaican sweep.

Jackson’s time is shy only of the 21.34 run by Florence Griffith-Joyner at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

While the Jamaican medalists were the same as four nights ago — Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah, who won bronze in the 100 finished seventh in this one — the Americans put a completely different trio on the stand.

Fred Kerley, Marvin Bracy and Trayvon Bromell dominated the 100. This time, it was Lyles, Bednarek, the Olympic silver medalist, and Knighton, who is now the youngest individual sprint medalist in worlds track history.

Knighton’s 19.49 earlier this year made him a slight favorite in this race and set up what was being touted as a rivalry of sorts with Lyles. It was the 25-year-old Lyles who beat Knighton to the line last month at nationals and waved his finger as he crossed — a not-so-subtle message that he wasn’t giving in to his younger rival.

But Lyles would be the first to concede that his biggest competition has been himself over the past few years. Once, he was seen as track’s solution to its Bolt problem — namely, what to do without an outsized personality to capture eyeballs.

But the pandemic hit. Lyles, who considers himself an entertainer at heart, suffered at traveling alone and competing in front of empty seats. He was unflinching about his mental health struggles and how difficult it was to not be able to compete alongside his brother, Josephus, who is on the U.S. relay pool this week.

But this week, the crowds were back and the trip to Oregon was easy. Lyles said he felt more “me” than he had in a while.

Then, he came out and ran like it.

Though the time says it best, the race Lyles ran was a beauty. Arms pumping machine-like, he hugged the inside line of Lane 6 as he rounded the curve. When he hit the straightaway, two body lengths separated him and Bednarek in Lane 5. Lyles won the race by three full footsteps.

As part of his postrace celebration, he dropped to both knees and put his hands together as if to pray. A moment later, the scoreboard started doing his thing. The red and blue jersey was shredded, and soon Lyles had his medal — gold, which matched the color of his hair.

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