Eugene, Raw. Noah Lyles crouched on the floor, put his hands on his knees, and stared at the clock. Not seeing what he was hoping for, he waved his hand lightly and returned to the track to celebrate the long-awaited victory in the 200m world championships.
Oh, but tonight it will keep getting better.
A watch that reads “19.32” for a moment will set a “19.31” mark. That means he broke the 26-year-old American record for Michael Johnson – a sign that, for decades, seemed unattainable.
“I was very concerned about whether that number would go from ‘2’ to ‘1’,” Lyles admitted after his historic victory Thursday night.
Then, a few seconds later, a scoreboard that, at first, only had Lyles’ name on it, appeared with the names of two winners behind him: Kenny Bednarik and Erion Knighton from the United States. As it happened four nights before.
Lyles hit his hand on the track four times, stood up straight and tore his shirt. He got his medal from the presenter, then went and hugged his family and carried the American flag – one of the many things that were required at the first world championships to be held in the United States.
And granting the invasion of the United States 22 medals in seven days.
“America is, like, winning medals left and right,” Lyles said. “It feels great because I’ve been waiting for America to come out and dominate since I got on the podium.”
Lyles’ 19.31 was the third-fastest time in history, behind Usain Bolt’s 19.19 in 2009 and 19.26 two years later by another Jamaican, Yohan Blake, while briefly pushing Bolt to excel.
But Johnson and those golden boots that crossed the line at 19.32 at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics hold a giant spot in track history as well. Johnson administered it 352 days before Lyles was born. The number “19.32,” has lingered there, annoying and ridiculous, for decades—a particularly startling 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 reaction right after the race. “No one wants to share a record. I think even Michael Johnson doesn’t want to share a record. So I was just begging him to change it.”
Back to back and new American record in the 200m for NOAH LYLES
SportsCenter July 22 2022
Hours after the win, Johnson was on track speaking with Lyles while a few dozen fans drowned in the spectacle. Lyles said they had never met before. Johnson lifted Lyles’ arm in the air as fans snapped photos of both former and new US record holders.
“He just said he’s had a great race,” Johnson told an Associated Press reporter when asked what they were talking about. “He said he’s worked harder than ever. I thought he was going a great curve. And so, it was great.”
Lyles’ win came moments after Sherica Jackson awarded the Jamaican women another gold in sprints. She ran 21.45, the second-fastest time in history, to beat her teammate, 100-meter champion Shelley Ann Fraser-Price, by 0.16.
Only defending champion Dina Asher-Smith of Britain took the bronze, without Jamaica winning back-to-back.
Jackson’s time was just shy of the 21.34 held by Florence Griffith Joyner at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Jackson said her victory came as a result of a mistake at last year’s Olympics, slowing down the curve and finishing fourth in her preliminary qualifying. She called it a silly mistake, one you didn’t see once.
“I never wanted it because I never wanted it to happen in my mind and I think it could happen again,” she said.
While Jamaica’s medalists were like theirs four nights ago – Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Hera, who won the bronze in the 100, finished seventh in that medal – the Americans put a completely different trio on the podium.
Fred Curley, Marvin Prause and Trayvon Brommel dominated the 100. This time, it was Lyles, Bednarek – the Olympic silver medalist who broke his toe at home in December while installing a locker – and Knighton, now the youngest singles enemy. Medal-Winning Worlds Tracing History.
Knighton 19.49 earlier this year made him a little favored in this race and set up what has been described as a rivalry with Lyles. It was 25-year-old Lyles who beat Knighton last month at the Nationals and waved his finger as he crossed, a not-so-subtle message that he didn’t give in to his younger rival.
“Everyone made an effort to be great, and that’s what he did,” Knighton said. “I mean, he broke the American record.”
But Lyles will be the first to admit that his biggest competition over the past few years has been himself. Once upon a time, he was seen as the ring solution to Bolt’s problem – who’s going to pick up eyeballs after the sport’s most formidable character retires.
But the epidemic struck.
Lyles, who considers himself an artist at heart, struggled to travel alone and compete in front of empty seats. He has been unwavering about his mental struggles and how hard he can’t race alongside his brother Josephus, who is in the US relay rally this week.
“The mental health I had in that moment is what also makes this moment great,” Lyles said. “Because it shows you can get out of a dark storm and get out better.”
This week, the crowds are back, and the trip to Oregon was easy. Lyles said he felt more “me” than he had in a while.
Then he went out and ran like him.
Although time says it’s the best, the race he ran was really beautiful.
Arms pumps like a machine, and his 5-foot-11 frame — two inches shorter than Johnson and half a foot shorter than Bolt — hugged the inside line of Track 6 as he rounded out the curve. It’s over then. When Lyles hit straight, Toulan separated him from Bednarek in lane 5. When Lyles reached the finish line, the gap between him and second place was a full three steps.
“This is definitely the beginning of my life,” Lyles said of his first 100 meters.
The second 100 wasn’t bad either.
“It will only get faster,” he said.