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Noah Lyles Becomes Youngest 200-meter World Champion In History

By Karen Rosen | Oct. 01, 2019, 4:03 p.m. (ET)

Noah Lyles celebrating his performance following the men’s 200-meter final at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 on Oct. 1, 2019 in Doha, Qatar. 

 

DOHA, Qatar -- Noah Lyles doesn't want to be the next Usain Bolt.

He wants to be "the current Noah Lyles."

Or, as it turned out Tuesday night at the IAAF World Championships, Lyles became the current world champion in the men's 200-meter.

“It’s like something that you’ve imagined so many times in your head, that once you actually achieve it, it’s like, ‘I thought we already did this!’” Lyles said.

“But it does feel really good to know that I’m at the end of the season and we came out with the ultimate victory, which is the gold medal.”

Lyles, who plans to celebrate with a milkshake – either vanilla or OREO – won with a time of 19.83 seconds, with Olympic silver medalist Andre De Grasse of Canada second in 19.94 and Alex Quiñonez of Ecuador third in 19.98.

Lyles came into the meet as close to a "sure thing" as anyone in any event and did not disappoint on a night when Team USA won three individual gold medals.

As he walked to the blocks, Lyles passed Team USA's Sam Kendricks, fresh off his win in the men's pole vault and still draped in the American flag. They embraced before Lyles got down to business.

“Aw, man, me and Sam have been doing our own little battles inside the hospitality,” Lyles said. “We’ve been going at it on Super Smash Bros. But it always feels good when you see somebody else win the gold. I was watching Sam and I was watching Donavan Brazier (who won the 800-meter). We have been cheering each other on since the 2016 Olympic trials, so to finally come out here and us both grab that gold, wow, what an amazing feeling.”

Lyles came off the curve with company, then left everyone behind on the straightaway in a race he called the hardest of his pro career.

“I saw they were moving on the turn and I just started pumping my arms on the turn,” he said, “because I knew I could sling off and grab that momentum and no matter where I was in the race, I will always be able to come back. Because I’ve been in last place and I’ve grabbed a win and I’ve been in first place and I’ve grabbed a win.”

As he crossed the finish line, Lyles closed his eyes and held out his hands as if he were having a Zen moment. Then he knelt on the track.

The 22-year-old is the youngest 200-meter world champion in history and captured the first title for Team USA in the event since Tyson Gay in 2007. An American has now won nine of the 17 gold medals in the 200 since the world championships began in 1983.

However, Team USA was shut out of the medals at worlds in 2017 when Ramil Guliyev of Turkey was the champion.

Lyles showed he was ready to be a worthy successor to Jamaica's Bolt when he clocked 19.50 seconds in Lausanne, Switzerland, in July for the fourth-fastest time in history. And that was into a headwind. Only Bolt (19.19 seconds), his Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake (19.26) and Michael Johnson, who holds the American record of 19.32, have run faster.

Lyles also is brimming with personality, and could help fill the void left by Bolt’s departure in that department.

Last year he was very inventive in his choice of socks – and on Tuesday night he went with stars –and-stripes on his feet. This season he has dyed his hair silver to emulate a character in Japanese anime – the "the Ultra Instinct form for all my ‘Dragon Ball Z’ fans out there.”

“I don’t think that I would do that,” said De Grasse, 24, who noted that he was a Dragon Ball Z fan when he was younger, “but for him, I think that was pretty awesome.”

Lyles said his hair may stay black for a while, but he hasn’t decided on his new look for next year. “Maybe I’ll be a villain,” he said.

But for now he’s one of the heroes for Team USA.

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When Lyles began competition here in Khalifa International Stadium, he went 20.26 seconds in the first round, finishing second in his heat after shutting it down at the finish.

Lyles vowed to "start turning on the body little by little."

He certainly did, with a time of 19.86 in the semifinals.

He believes Bolt's world record is within his reach. "If you don't think it is, you don't need to be in the sport," said Lyles, who broke through on the international stage by winning the 200-meter at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Nanjing 2014 and the 100-meter at the 2016 world juniors.

Christian Coleman, the newly-minted 100-meter world champion, scratched before the first round of the 200 because he was sore following his victory the night before. Coleman had placed second at nationals.

“The goal's still the same," Lyles said of Coleman's absence. "I came out to win and that ain't going to change."

With Coleman winning the 100 and Lyles the 200, the United States holds both world titles for the first time since Gay grabbed both in 2007 in Osaka, Japan.

Lyles became the first man to win the Diamond League in the 100 as well as the 200 in the same year, but decided to sit out the shorter event this year at worlds to concentrate on the 200.

And yes, he’s going to double at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. “I know everybody’s asking that, don’t worry, Tokyo is it,” he said. We got the gold in the 200, now we’re going to go get that double gold, maybe even triple for Tokyo.”

Lyles isn’t finished in Doha. He’s on tap to run a leg on the Team USA 4x100-meter, but wouldn’t divulge which one. “Ha-ha! That’s a secret,” he said. “I can’t be giving up U.S. confidential information, although I will be on it.”

Running on a team that includes Coleman and Justin Gatlin, who won the silver in the 100, Lyles is virtually assured of another medal, though Canada could provide a strong challenge.

De Grasse, who also won the bronze medal in the 100 at the Rio Games, figures to be a key rival for Lyles going forward.

“Noah’s a great athlete, a great personality,” De Grasse said. “I think he brings a lot to the sport.

“But he’s young, I think he has a lot more in the tank and I’m looking forward to more battles with him in the future.”

De Grasse said Lyles reminds him of his younger self. “Our starts are not that great, but the acceleration and the way we come off the bend and run strong home, we run kind of alike, and we’re the same type of shape athlete," he said.

“For us, the person who’s going to win is who is going to be the strongest coming home.”

And Lyles also has a rival in Kendricks.

“We’re gamers on and off the track,” the pole vaulter said. “We’re trying to find ways to compete even if it’s just with our phones. Noah and I are laser even. You don’t know a guy until you really see how he does with defeat, so we’ll have to get a rematch here now that we’re both done.”