Noah Lyles wins 200-meter world title and looks to become a star at next year’s Olympics

Noah Lyles, of the United States, smiles after the finish in the Men's 200-meters semifinal during the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)(AP/Martin Meissner)

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — When Noah Lyles powered into the straightaway and started pulling away in the 200-meter final, only a few questions remained on a night when track’s best sprinters backed up the hype at world championships.

None of them had to do with whether he would win.

The man who wants to someday be more than a mere sports star stayed on that trajectory Friday in a 19.52-second runaway to become the first man to complete the 100-200 sprint double at worlds since Usain Bolt did it for the third time back in 2015.

This was Lyles’ third straight world championship in his better race, the 200.

As for the biggest questions left: Will he meet his stated goal of 19.10 seconds in the 200, and can he reach superstar status at the Olympics — well, those answers will be teased out over the 11 1/2 months between now and the Paris Games.

“I think I’ve said a lot of times that I want to transcend the sport,” said Lyles, who is currently the subject of two documentaries and arguably the most engaging character in track. “I am the guy who wants to move past just being ‘track famous.’”

A huge part of that, of course, is getting the work done on the oval. Consider that done, at least for now. The 26-year-old American surprised pretty much everyone but himself by winning the 100 last weekend. Then, he came out and worked on his specialty, the 200.

“The 100 is fun,” Lyles said. “But the 200, you know, this one is personal to me.”

The same might be said for Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson, who ran the second fastest time in history, a 21.41, to win her second straight title at 200 meters. Four days after taking second in the 100, Jackson beat American Gabby Thomas by .4 seconds and three steps in the 200, with Sha’Carri Richardson taking bronze to go with her gold in the 100.

Florence Griffith-Joyner’s record of 21.34 is nearly 35 years old and Jackson has now run in the 21.4s twice — this adding to the 21.45 she ran at last year’s worlds. With Thomas, who has a 21.60 on her resume, and now Richardson there to push her, there’s a sense Flo-Jo’s mark could be ready to go in Paris.

″When I crossed the line and I saw the time, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m close, I’m close!’” Jackson said.

Earlier this year, Lyles went to social media and declared he was going to run 19.10, which would shatter Bolt’s world record of 19.19 that felt untouchable when he set it in 2009.

It was an audacious goal that fits into the American’s overall plan.

“There’s a whole world out there and the Olympics is something they connect to,” Lyles said. “And Usain Bolt is something they connect to. And connecting what you do to something that they love helps bridge that gap.”

That chase for the record could make for some great storytelling over the next year.

As for Friday’s win — it played out predictably.

Lyles looked a bit lumbering over the first 50 meters, but after he rounded the bend and moved into the final 80 meters, he overtook and then sprinted away from Erriyon Knighton by .23, holding off any thought of a true rivalry with the 19-year-old American for another year.

Letsile Tebogo of Botswana finished third and adds the bronze to his silver in the 100.

Lyles conceded he wished he’d run faster.

But six races over six nights, including all the heats, can get exhausting. The week has been emotional — he sobbed openly when accepting his 100-meter medal earlier in the week — and bizarre. The win came a night after a cart carrying Lyles and other 200-meter runners to the track for the semifinal got broadsided by another cart, sending glass flying into the eye of Jamaican sprinter Andrew Hudson. Hudson returned for the final and finished eighth.

Lyles was no worse for wear, and though he was telling the world he would win this race, some of the earlier action on Day 7 at the track reinforced the notion that nothing is for sure.

Yulimar Rojas, the Venezuelan world-record holder who has won every major championship in triple jump since 2019, was languishing in eighth place and down to her last jump before she pumped herself up, got the crowd clapping, then took off and reached 15.08 meters (49 feet, 5 3/4 inches) on her last try.

It was good enough to beat Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk, who won Ukraine’s first medal of the tournament — a silver instead of a gold.

In the women’s javelin throw, Japan’s Haruka Kitaguchi took the title with a throw of 66.73 meters.

Before those titles were decided, the U.S. men’s relay team made it through a semi-smooth lap in the 4×100 to advance to Saturday night’s final. The Americans have only won this race once in their last six tries at the Olympics and worlds, thanks mostly to a history of rough baton passes.

Lyles should be in that final, which gives him a chance to go 3 for 3 in the sprints — a feat Bolt pulled off at worlds in 2009, 2013 and 2015 but that no American has done since Tyson Gay in 2007.

A success Saturday for Lyles would heighten expectations for next year.

If he pulls off a triple in Paris, Lyles would join the likes of Carl Lewis (Los Angeles 1984), Wilma Rudolph (Rome 1960) and Jesse Owens (Berlin 1936) as rare U.S. sprinters to win all three sprints on the sport’s biggest stage — the stage where stars are born.

“I want people to say ‘Wow, this isn’t just a fast guy, he’s a well rounded guy with a good personality, and I want to follow him for that,’” Lyles said.


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