The Washington Post
Lyles really lets it rip
Alexandria sprinter breaks Johnson’s American 200-meter record to lead U.S. sweep at worlds
EUGENE, ORE. — Around the turn they came, and suddenly Noah Lyles’s rival changed from the precocious sprinter three lanes over to history. Any question about Lyles’s superiority in the 200 meters yielded to pure clarity. He separated from the fastest runners in the world — and started chasing the fastest of all time.
The track and field universe arrived Thursday night wondering whether Lyles could hold off Erriyon Knighton. It left in awe, armed with the knowledge he had chased down Michael Johnson. At the track and field world championships, as the sunset reflected off the Coburg Hills in the distance beyond Hayward Field, Lyles ran halfway around an oval faster than an any American ever has, faster than any man ever except Jamaicans Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake.
When the former T.C. Williams (now Alexandria City) High star crossed the finish line, an acre between him and American runners-up Kenny Bednarek and Knighton, 19.32 seconds popped up on the clock — the time Johnson etched into the record book at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Lyles’s heart sank. Then he looked again.
“And then that number changed from a 2 to a 1, and my whole mood changed,” Lyles said.
Remember the time: 19.31 seconds. It is the new mark Americans will chase in the 200. After a turbulent Olympic year that culminated with a bronze medal, Lyles reclaimed his place not only atop his event but the entire sport.
He struggled with mental health in 2021, openly discussing the effects of the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd. He took antidepressants, then came off them because he said they affected his training. He cried after he won bronze, wishing his brother had made the Olympics instead of him. He lacked energy running in an empty stadium in Tokyo.
Track and field world championships, Day 8 | Today, 8:30 p.m., USA Network
On Thursday night, Lyles ran to the crowd and hugged his brother, Josephus, and his mother, Keisha Caine Bishop.
“Me and my brother dream about this today, but today is my day,” Lyles said to the crowd. “I knew it was coming. Tokyo was hard. But now I got my whole family. I got a crowd! I got a crowd! I couldn’t have dreamed of this moment any better.”
Bednarek was second in 19.77, and Knighton finished third in 19.80.
Minutes before Lyles and Knighton settled into their blocks, Shericka Jackson of Jamaica showed the conditions could yield an epic time. She won the women’s 200 in 21.45 seconds, the closest any woman has come to Florence Griffith-joyner’s 21.34, a world record that no longer seems quite so unbreakable. Jackson passed fellow Jamaican and reigning Olympic gold medalist Elaine Thompson-herah on the all-time list and held off countrywoman Shelly-ann FraserPryce, the ageless legend who added a silver to the 100-meter gold she won earlier in the meet.
Then, as the public address introduced him in the blocks in Lane 6, Lyles lifted his arms over his head and brought them to his chest — then stuck out his tongue and shook his short, gold-dyed braids. Not known for his start, he rocketed out of the blocks, passing the two competitors ahead of him. It was over at the turn. Afterward, Lyles ripped off the top of his singlet and held his gold medal in the air.
The race attracted attention from every corner of the track universe. No less an eminence than John Carlos attended. Carlos watched in person alongside Tommie Smith, who with Carlos raised a gloved fist in protest on the podium at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics after winning 200meter gold and bronze. Carlos weighed in beforehand on another pair of American medalists.
“I like the young fella, Mr. Lyles, because I looked at his career, I looked at his heart, and he’s a fighter,” Carlos said. “I look at the young fella, Erriyon, he reminds me of myself because he is a tall individual but he runs a blazing turn. And I don’t think anybody ran the turn as well as me back in my era. I think Mr. Lyles is going to have to do his greatest race ever in order to beat this young kid.”
Last summer, Knighton became the youngest U.S. track and field Olympian since Jim Ryun in 1964. He claimed fourth in the 200 at 17, and at that remarkable achievement Knighton expressed only disappointment, a signal of his precocious talent and self-belief. For an encore this year, Knighton had added two more milestones. In April, during a small meet at LSU, Knighton sprinted half a lap in 19.49 seconds, which made him the fourthfastest man ever and shattered Bolt’s junior record. A few weeks later, he graduated from Tampa’s Hillsborough High.
Knighton’s race at LSU nudged him one spot ahead of Lyles on the all-time list, but Lyles had not ceded his place as the American standard. Knighton had still not defeated Lyles head-to-head in a final. He came closest at last month’s U.S. championships, where Lyles chased down Knighton in the final straightaway and beat him by 0.02 seconds, pointing across Knighton’s face at the clock as he broke the tape.
“I know that he’s coming back with a vengeance,” Lyles said this week. “And I’m not going to give him anything less than I have.”
Lyles played down the gesture, explaining that he was celebrating his own race, not taunting Knighton. Afterward, while both waited to, uh, produce at drug testing, Lyles provided the same explanation to Knighton.
“He was like: ‘Bro, you don’t even have to worry about it. I totally get it,’ ” Lyles said. “That was it.”
It may not be heated off the track, but Lyles and Knighton provide the kind of rivalry that track and field produces at its best. Lyles is vibrant and demonstrative, in the prime of his career. Knighton is stoic and determined, at the start of his. They are evenly matched over 200 meters and a contrast elsewhere.
Lyles and Knighton did not have the spotlight to themselves Thursday, because Athing Mu demands attention every time she steps on a track. Mu won two gold medals in Tokyo, setting the American record in the 800 meters at 1 minute 55.21 seconds (which she lowered weeks later to 1:55.04) and running the anchor leg of a dreamy 4x400 relay team that included Sydney Mclaughlin, Allyson Felix and Dalilah Muhammad. At 19, she placed herself alongside Mclaughlin as the future of American track and field.
On Thursday night, Mu made her world championships debut in an 800-meter heat, controlling pace from the front and winning in 2:01.30. Mu, who skipped May’s Prefontaine Classic while recovering from covid-19 and paused her training for about 10 days, has not dominated this year in the same manner as last year, which demonstrates the height of her standard — she still owns the best time in the world this year at 1:57.01. She received a rare challenge from Ajee’ Wilson, whose American record she seized in Tokyo, at the U.S. championships, outracing her over the final 20 meters.
“Only Lord knows where I would be if I didn’t get covid,” Mu said. “I know me, where I’m at right now, I’m happy. I’m satisfied with it. Knowing that that happened, I’m coming into this meet super level-minded, making sure I don’t take any race for granted.”
Note: U.S. decathlon champion Garrett Scantling, who finished fourth at the Tokyo Olympics, accepted a provisional suspension for a possible anti-doping violation and will not compete at the world championships, the U.S. Anti-doping Agency announced. Scantling had been left off the decathlon start list for an unexplained reason.
He is not accused of testing positive for a banned substance. Scantling committed possible whereabouts violations and possible tampering during an investigation into those violations, the USADA said.