(L-R) Kenneth Bednarek, Noah Lyles and Erriyon Knighton celebrate after competing in the men's 200-meter final at the 2022 World Athletics Championships on July 21, 2022 in Eugene, Ore.
Noah Lyles is at his fastest down the straightaway of a 200-meter race. So when the American came out of the curve with a sizeable lead in Thursday’s men’s final at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, something special was clearly brewing.
The reigning world champion only pulled away farther down the stretch to defend his title in dominant fashion, crossing the line in 19.31 seconds. His time made him the third fastest man ever in the event and edged Michael Johnson’s 26-year-old U.S. record by a hundredth of a second.
Making it all the sweeter? Fellow Americans Kenny Bednarek and Erriyon Knighton were right behind him, securing the third U.S. sweep so far of these world championships. The U.S. men also swept the men’s 100 on Saturday and the men’s shot put on Sunday.
“I've given my all,” Lyles said. “I literally had nothing left after I crossed the finish line. It's an immaculate feeling to be on the podium with two fellow Americans.”
The last time a country swept the 100- and 200-meter races at a global championship event was at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, when the U.S. did so in a Games that featured only a few dozen of athletes from outside North America.
“We are a dominant force in America now,” Lyles added.
Lyles, a 25-year-old from Clermont, Florida, emerged as one of the sport’s dynamic young stars when he won the 200 at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. Charismatic and not afraid to emote, Lyles has backed it up on the track. His rise continued when he won the 2019 world title in Doha, Qatar, and all appeared set for him to be one of the faces of Team USA at the next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Those Games didn’t go as anyone planned, and when the Olympics finally took place a year late Lyles showed up not at his best, both physically and mentally. He still managed to win a bronze medal, after which he promised to be back and better than ever.
He sure lived up to it.
Three weeks ago at the USATF Outdoor Championships on the same Hayward Field track, Lyles set the stage. Knighton, at 18 years old and with the fastest time in the world to that point this year, had become the sport’s newest darling. After the teenager came off the curve in the lead, Lyles said not quite yet and chased him down, offering a finger point at his younger teammate as he crossed the line first.
It sure looked like he was having a good time on the track again.
“I thought I was changing last year. It scared me,” Lyles said Thursday. “I was fearful, and I wanted to get the spark I had back.”
There was far less drama in Thursday’s final, as Lyles charged out of the blocks in his desired lane six, then built a Usain Bolt-like lead down the stretch. Bednarek, who also won the silver medal in Tokyo, was nearly a half-second back at 19.77. Knighton moved up one spot from his Tokyo finish to third with a time of 19.80.
“This is by far the most fun I've ever had at a track meet,” Lyles said, “and we still have the 4x100 to do.”
The Americans didn’t fare quite as well in the preceding women’s 200, which was stacked with some of the fastest sprinters of all time. Reigning NCAA champ Abby Steiner, 22, finished sixth in 22.26, with 23-year-old Tamara Clark one spot back in 22.32. Both were making their world championships debuts.
Thursday’s race was Steiner’s 55th of the season so far, she said, and it might not be her last if she’s chosen for one of the weekend’s relays.
“This was my first world championships so I just wanted to get out as fast as I could,” she said. “Tried to hold on but unfortunately, I did not have my race today.”
Four days after the Jamaican women swept the 100 medals, the top two switched places in the 200 as Shericka Jackson won in a world championships record 21.45 seconds, with 10-time world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce second in 21.81. Defending world champ Dina Asher-Smith of Great Britain took third in 22.02.
Jackson’s time was the second fastest ever, behind only Florence Griffith-Joyner’s enduring world record of 21.34 from 1988.