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.”

USATF OUTDOORS: Full Results

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Mark Spitz takes on Katie Ledecky’s challenge

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Swimmers around the world took on Katie Ledecky‘s milk-glass challenge since it became a social media sensation, including one of the few Americans with more Olympic gold medals.

Mark Spitz, who won seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games, took 10 strokes in an at-home pool while perfectly balancing a glass of what appeared to be water on his head.

“Would’ve been faster with the ‘stache, @markspitzusa, but I still give this 7 out of 7 gold medals,” Ledecky tweeted.

Spitz joined fellow Olympic champions Susie O’Neill of Australia and American Matt Grevers in posting similar videos to what Ledecky first shared Monday.

In Tokyo next year, Ledecky can pass Spitz’s career gold-medal count of nine if she wins all of her expected events — 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles and the 4x200m free relay.

Then she would trail one athlete from any country in any sport — Michael Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who has yet to post video of swimming while balancing a glass on his head.

MORE: Spitz puts Michael Phelps’ career in perspective

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Serena Williams, reclusive amid pandemic, returns to tennis eyeing Grand Slam record

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Serena Williams travels with “like 50 masks” and has been a little bit of a recluse since early March and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t have full lung capacity, so I’m not sure what would happen to me,” Williams said Saturday, two days before the start of the WTA’s Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., her first tournament since playing Fed Cup in early February. “I’m sure I’ll be OK, but I don’t want to find out.”

Williams, 38, has a history of blood clots and pulmonary embolisms. She faced life-threatening complications following her Sept. 1, 2017, childbirth that confined her to a bed for six weeks. She said her daily routine was surgery and that she lost count after the first four.

More recently, Williams enjoyed “every part” of the last six months at home in Florida, her longest time grounded since her teens.

“I’ve been a little neurotic, to an extent,” on health and safety, she said. “Everyone in the Serena bubble is really protected.”

Williams is entered to play next week in Lexington and at consecutive tournaments in New York City later this month — the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open, the latter starting Aug. 31.

Williams is the highest-ranked player in the Lexington field at No. 9. Others include 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, older sister Venus Williams and 16-year-old Coco Gauff.

She has been bidding ever since having daughter Olympia to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Grand Slam singles titles, albeit many of Court’s crowns came before the Open Era and, notably at the Australian Open, against small fields lacking the world’s best players. Williams reached the last two Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, losing all of them.

She showed her seriousness in committing early to this year’s U.S. Open by installing a court at home with the same surface. Three of the top 10 female singles players already said they will skip the U.S. Open due to travel and/or virus concerns, including No. 1 Ash Barty.

“Tennis is naturally a socially distanced sport, so it was kind of easy to go back and just walk on my side of the court and have my hitter walk on his side of the court,” Williams said.

The French Open starts two weeks after the U.S. Open ends. Williams was asked if she will fly to Europe for tournaments this autumn.

“I see myself doing it all, if it happens,” she said.

The Tokyo Olympics are too far away to make plans.

“We’ll have to kind of wait to see what happens in the fall,” she said. “One thing I have learned with this pandemic is don’t plan.”

MORE: Past U.S. Open champions get wild cards

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