DES MOINES — The scenes most associated with Noah Lyles are of his pre-race introductions (Sunday’s was an ode to Conor McGregor) and post-victory dances (Sunday’s was a mimic of Kevin Durant).
But after Lyles won the U.S. 200m title here, comfortably in 19.78 seconds into a headwind, his thoughts soon turned to a recovery room in Sacramento and a scene from two years ago.
Lyles was supposed to make his big splash on the global stage in 2017.
He came to those USATF Outdoor Championships favored to make the world championships team in the 200m, having run 19.90 seconds in his Diamond League debut six weeks earlier.
But he tore a right hamstring in that 19.90 breakthrough. Lyles stayed in Germany for three weeks for treatment. Lyles flew to California, ran the first round at nationals and won his heat, but he felt pain behind the knee. Later that night, with his coach and agent, Lyles heated, iced and massaged the knee. The next morning, the day of the 200m semifinals and final, he warmed up, and it still wasn’t feeling well.
“We, my agent, my mom, my coach, got together and asked, if we run right now, will it benefit us?” Lyles said two years ago. “We all said no. We would most likely get more injured than what we were dealing with, and it would probably create a season-ending injury.”
Lyles pulled the plug on trying to make his first senior global championship team. He was a year out of high school. With no worlds in 2018, he knew he would have to wait two years for another chance.
Later that night, Lyles watched the 2017 U.S. 200m final from a recovery room at the venue, thinking, “I could have done that. You’re just like, dang, I could have done it, but I’m not in a position to do it.”
“I was in tears that I was unable to run,” he diaried. “But back in the hotel where my mother, brother and uncle were to support me, I made a decision that night to refocus. We agreed it wasn’t meant to be. There is a better plan out there, and I have many more years ahead of me.”
Lyles went undefeated the rest of the season, and through 2018, in the 200m. On July 5, he clocked 19.50 seconds to become the fourth-fastest man in history behind Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Michael Johnson.
Lyles “is the only American I’ve seen that I believe can surpass 19.32,” Johnson tweeted Sunday afternoon, noting his American record time from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (which was a world record until Bolt lowered it another .13.). “However he’s probably more appropriately focusing on 19.19!!!”
Maybe that’s to come. But first Lyles crossed the Drake Stadium finish line. He got a pat on the back from runner-up and U.S. 100m champion Christian Coleman.
“I was really surprised on that,” Lyles said of Coleman. Their rivalry was an early season storyline after Lyles edged Coleman in a May 100m, and it came out that the two were more competitors than friends.
“The last time I tried to dab him up, he didn’t want to dab me up,” Lyles said. But on Sunday, Coleman made the first move post-race. “He said congratulations,” Lyles said. “I said, thanks man. You did the double. That’s a hard double to do. Congratulations to you.”
Then Lyles danced, as usual. He knelt and prayed. He turned to the crowd, including his mom, Keisha Caine Bishop, and started shouting. The words were inaudible from the broadcast feed.
“I told my mom, in 2017 we pulled out of the 200m for a reason,” Lyles said. “And today, God told me that reason is now.”
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