Noah Lyles - came and conquered - now he's the man set to be the superstar at next year's Paris Olympics


Noah Lyles, of the United States, celebrates after winning the gold medal in the Men's 200-metres final during the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Friday, Aug. 25, 2023. - AP

NOAH LYLES came to Budapest - He saw, he conquered and vanquished all his rivals and also set aside aside all those critics who thought he was just all talk.

The American star sprinter said he would win both the sprint titles and did it with some would say with much ease. His stated dream of breaking Usain Bolt's track world record may not quite have come true but Lyles retained his 200m crown from 2019 and last year for a three-peat to add to the 100m title he won last Sunday.

He also promised to win three GOLD medals in this tournament, and that is just one race way - the 4x100m finals on Saturday night.

And after Saturday, athletics may finally have found the answer to find man who can genuinely replace sprint megastar Usain Bolt as the new superstar and the face of athletics at the Paris Olympics next year.

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

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

After the 200m race, Lyles lifted two fingers up to the crowd and TV cameras to signify his sprint double. It was a somewhat understated celebration from a man who could still yet win a third gold in Budapest in the 4x100m relay.

"I definitely do [think I've achieved something special]," Lyles told the post-race press conference. "I've reached a level five other male sprinters have ever achieved, just became the double world champion. Still running fast, ran against an amazing field on both sides. And shoot, what a world championships."

Asked about his winning time, Lyles said he was not disappointed he did not reach his pre-meet goal times.

"Of course I wanted it to be faster, I at least wanted to break the American record again," he said, referring to his winning 19.31 from last year. "Of course I still have the ability to. But after my sixth race and I still run 19.5, I have to be happy with that."

As for the biggest questions left: Will he meet his stated goal of 19.10 seconds in the 200m, 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 in the report from AP. "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.”

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.

Before those titles were decided, the US men’s relay team made it through a semi-smooth lap in the 4x100 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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Noah Lyles , New Sprint Superstar

   

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