BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Noah Lyles captured the 100-meter world championship Sunday, finishing in 9.83 seconds for a victory that reshuffled the deck for next year’s Olympics and cements him as the world’s No. 1 sprinter.
It was a victory that maybe only he and those close to him saw coming. The 200-meter specialist, who will defend his title in that event later this week, barely qualified for the shorter race after battling with COVID in the leadup to U.S. nationals last month.
More recently, he posted on social media that he could run 9.65 seconds, a thought that defending champion Fred Kerley scoffed at, saying if Lyles did that, he’d run faster.
But Kerley didn’t make it out of the semifinal round and Lyles’ closest competition in the final came from Letsile Tebogo, a 20-year-old from Botswana, who finished in 9.873, .001 ahead of Britain’s Zharnel Hughes.
Running from Lane 6, Lyles overcame a so-so start, and was running in about fourth place at the halfway mark. Everyone ahead of him was to his left, and he powered past them and through the line. His first embrace was with American teammate Christian Coleman, the 2019 champion who finished fifth.
After Lyles saw his name listed first on the scoreboard, he looked into the on-screen camera and yelled: “They said it couldn’t be done. They said I wasn’t the one. But thank God I am!”
The entire track world, outside of Kerley and a few others, might agree.
Some believe Lyles is the closest thing to pure star power this sport has seen since Usain Bolt called it quits in 2017, back when the sprinter from Florida was just turning into a pro.
Since then, Lyles has forged quite a personality.
He’s been unabashed about the mental-health struggles he’s endured, especially in the post-COVID atmosphere of the Tokyo Olympics. He recently signed a deal for a Netflix series to take people behind the scenes of his training — the thought being that the sport, struggling for relevance in the post-Bolt era, needs more time in the limelight.
His latest gambit was the posting of his goals on Instagram. The 9.65 in the 100 is still a ways away, but he has a gold medal in the event and matched Hughes for the best time in the world this year. He also listed 19.10 as an aim in the 200, which would break Bolt’s record. The final in that event is set for Friday night.