It’s a testament to Lyles’ prestige in track and field that a performance not seen on the world stage in seven years can come with little disappointment. Lyles completed the sprint double at the World Championships in Budapest with an easy and expected victory in the 200-meter race, adding to his stunning 100-meter gold that he won last Sunday.
Lyles became the first male sprinter since Usain Bolt at the 2016 Olympics to sweep the 100 and 200 meters at a major world championship. But Lyles was chasing another achievement for Bolt: When Lyles set the American record back at last year’s world championships to 19.31 seconds, Bolt’s previously unimaginable world record of 19.19 seconds appeared. Lyles declared that he could and would break the mark.
And on Friday at the National Athletics Center he visibly broke away from the field at the turn, but a not-so-great start and first 50 metres ensured he wouldn’t threaten Bolt’s record. However, the chase is far from over for Ailes, and the anticipation for the Olympic Games in Paris can begin.
The last runner announced that Lyles walked to the blocks last, even though he had run lane 6, and there was a silver chain around his neck tightly. He came off the blocks well, but not with the same explosiveness that allowed him to win the 100m. Lyles was level with Americans Kenny Bednarik and Erion Knighton in the first 50 metres. He lunges forward around the curve and then separates the rest of the way. Knighton took the silver in 19.75 seconds, while Bednarik, the Olympic silver medalist, dropped to fifth. The bronze medal was taken by Letsil Tebogo of Botswana, with a time of 19.81 seconds.
As Lyles rode in celebration, he raised two fingers in the air, one for each individual gold in Budapest. He could also have held out against three, for the number of world championships he has in the 200m. He became the only man to win three consecutive world championships in the 200m other than Bolt, who won four consecutive titles between 2009 and 2015. Lyles could have also bagged five world championship golds, including the 4×100 relay in 2019.
If Lyles is chasing Bolt now, the race will already start next summer in Paris. The Olympics is where track and field athletes can excel in the sport, and it’s the only gap on Lyles’ resume. In Tokyo, after a year of personal turmoil in which he publicly shared his struggles with mental health, Lyles did not make the US 100-meter team and won a bronze in the 200-meter at his first Games. He has not lost a 200m final since then.
Lyles will turn 27 at the Paris Olympics, at the peak of his abilities and the undisputed fastest man in the world barring unforeseen events over the next 11 months. He tends to thrive on the excitement and interest that will accompany those expectations. He will have the opportunity to prove himself as one of the sport’s all-time greats, a potential he first demonstrated at TC Williams (now Alexandria City) High School in Alexandria.
Lyles survived an unusual and troubling accident before Thursday’s semi-final heat. At the National Athletics Center, the distance between the warm-up area and the track, unlike most stadiums, is too far to walk. Instead, the athletes rode karts, a charming feature of the meet up to the semi-finals of the 200m. A carriage carrying many runners, including Lyles, at a crossroads collides with another carriage.
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“There was a misunderstanding about who was going to stop,” Lyles said in an NBC interview. They both decided that neither of them would stop. So they ended up kissing each other.
Lyles was unhurt and crossed the tape in 19.76 seconds as a best qualifier. But his fellow passenger, Andrew Hudson of Jamaica, raced back with a small piece of glass lodged in his eye. Hudson finished the race in 20.38 seconds, far from the pace of the qualifiers, but after he lodged a protest over the accident, the organizers pushed him to the final. Hudson finished eighth.
Lyles needed a massive performance to compete with the opening class. Minutes before the men’s final, Jamaican Sherika Jackson smashed the women’s competition in 21.41 seconds, the fastest time ever in the world championships and close to the 35-year-old Florence Griffith Joyner’s world record.
As the time flashed on the scoreboard, silver medalist Gabby Thomas’ mouth dropped as she embraced Jackson. For years, the figure of 21.34 remained one of the least imperiled records in the sport. He might be trembling now.
Jackson beat Thomas, the Olympic bronze medalist, by 0.4 seconds, overshadowing one of the best performances of Thomas’ career. She missed last year’s world championships due to injury, and may try to make up for lost time by running the relay this weekend.
Chakari Richardson, who is attempting the double after winning the 100m this week, added a bronze to her individual performance that has put her back into the global elite.
As technology in both spikes and surfaces helped reshape world records, both Bolt and Griffith Joyner’s scores seemed safe. The enduring takeaway from the 200m finals, with Paris a year away, is that nothing is out of the ordinary.