Noah Lyles, wiping away tears of the past, makes first world championships

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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 BoltYohan 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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Dominik Paris, world champion skier, suffers season-ending injury

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Italian Dominik Paris, the reigning world champion in the super-G, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a training crash Tuesday ahead of this weekend’s speed races in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Paris crashed in super-G training not far from the hallowed World Cup venue, slipping into a curve and damaging his right knee. He also suffered a fibula microfracture, according to the Italian federation.

“My season ends here,” he said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “Unfortunately while I was sliding, the inside ski caught too much and the ligament broke. There is not much to add. In the next few days we will evaluate, together with the medical staff, how to proceed.”

Paris won his third Hahnenkamm downhill title last year and was one of the favorites for Saturday’s downhill, the most prestigious annual race in the sport. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage for “Snow Pass” subscribers at 5:30 a.m. ET.

Paris, 30, won a pair of downhills in Bormio in December among five total podiums this season.

In his absence, Swiss Beat Feuz and German Thomas Dressen lead the podium contenders.

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It’s Nathan Chen’s time at nationals for a feat 32 years in the making

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Nathan Chen can join Brian Boitano in U.S. figure skating history this week, a decade after holding Boitano in the palm of his hands with a program set to music from “Kung Fu Panda.”

Chen seeks a fourth straight national title in Greensboro, N.C. He would be the seventh man to do so since World War II. Five of the previous six won Olympic titles — Dick Button, Hayes Jenkins, David Jenkins, Scott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano from 1985-88.

Boitano remembered the first time he met Chen. He and Kristi Yamaguchi were compelled to leave their seats to find the teeny, tiny wunderkind who performed that program to the 2008 DreamWorks film.

“He was taking off his skates, and he probably came up to our waist,” Boitano said. “We knew when we saw him back then that he was going to be something special. He was really quiet. He’s still very quiet.”

In an interview last week, Chen focused on the present — coming back from a two-week cold or flu bug — rather than the perspective.

“I don’t like to typically think about that,” Chen said when asked about his streak. “It’s just different [from year to year]. It’s not really necessarily easier or harder.”

It is also different from previous eras. The last five men to win four in a row did it all in one Olympic cycle, then stepped away from competition after the Winter Games. That was back when turning professional meant the end of an Olympic career.

“It was kind of the norm back then,” Hamilton said. “After that it was kind of back and forth a lot [until Chen]. The business of skating changed so skaters could stay in a lot more, a lot longer. With all the money they brought in, they were able to prevent skaters from turning professional. So that brought in a different approach to nationals.”

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Both Hamilton and six-time (non-consecutive) U.S. champion Todd Eldredge could think of just one name to compare Chen’s dominance in the history of U.S. men’s skating: Button, who won the first seven national titles after World War II, plus two Olympic golds.

Button earned national and world titles as a Harvard student. Chen is on a two-season win streak while majoring in statistics and data science at Yale. Button was the first skater to land a double Axel and a triple jump of any kind. Chen was the first to land six quads in one free skate.

Eldredge coaches skaters at the same rink where Chen trains when Chen visits his Southern California-based coach Rafael Arutunian. He is awed by watching Chen working out. Though Eldredge owns more national titles, he never felt the massive favorite status that accompanies Chen.

Eldredge competed in the post-Hamilton/Boitano era, when national champions began competing over multiple Olympic cycles. Eldredge ebbed and flowed from his first national title in 1990, when compulsory figures were still around, to 2002, when he defeated Timothy Goebel, then known as the Quad King.

“Physically, the demands of the sport take their toll on your body,” Eldredge said. “It’s hard to maintain that same level for that length of period of time.

“[In] 12 years [since Chen’s first national title], when he’s 29 years old, is he going to be able to continue to sustain that?”

All of the recent top U.S. men competed in multiple Olympic cycles. The last multiple national champion was Jeremy Abbott, who earned two titles each in two different Olympic cycles. Abbott finished his career in a third Olympic cycle, placing fifth at the 2015 U.S. Championships. Abbott didn’t remember that Chen made his senior nationals debut that year, finishing eighth at age 15.

“For me, winning the third and the fourth [titles] were harder because I started thinking about winning,” Abbott said. “After the second one, I was heading into a new quad and I was two-time U.S. champion. Then my focus was, oh, I’m expected to win. So that was a harder mental game rather than just focusing on making an Olympic team. The expectation now that I’ve done this twice in a row, I’m expected to win again and again and again.”

Abbott and Chen came up in the era of the points-based judging system instituted in 2004.

“Now with the way the scoring system is very different [from the old 6.0], cumulative points, if you have a bad day as a national champion, that’s it. You can’t get the points,” Eldredge said. “[In previous eras], if a certain skater was, I’ll say politically supposed to be the champion, you got a higher score, and rightfully so in most cases.”

Chen has the benefit of going into competitions knowing the kind of advantage he has in base value points from his jumping arsenal. He won last year’s national title by 58 points. This international season, he is 80 points clear of the next-highest-ranked U.S. man, Jason Brown.

“I don’t think that the try-to-push technique is necessarily my goal here,” at nationals, Chen said. “Hopefully just to maintain my body, maintain my health and try to prepare myself for the second half of the season.”

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As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.