The time has finally come for Noah Lyles to seize his gold medal.
The American is the overwhelming favorite in the world championships 200m final on Tuesday (NBCSN, 3:40 p.m. ET) after posting the fastest time in Monday’s semifinals.
“Trying to make a point,” Lyles told Lewis Johnson on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA after clocking 19.86 seconds, one day after being edged into second place in his first-round heat. “A lot of people thought I was out for the count [after the first round].”
Lyles, who shows off Dragon Ball Z-inspired silver hair and hides his one tattoo under his uniform (the word “ICON” on his side), has lost just one meet since finishing fourth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials out of high school. He owns the eight fastest times in this Olympic cycle of the eight men in the final in Doha.
But Lyles has never competed in a race of this magnitude. After missing the Rio Olympic team by .09, he also missed the 2017 World Championships due to a torn right hamstring.
He watched the 2017 World 200m final from his Florida home. Surprise winner Ramil Guliyev of Turkey clocked 20.09 seconds, the slowest winning time since 2003. Lyles had recorded 19.90 in May 2017, the race where he tore that hamstring.
He should go much faster on Tuesday. This season, Lyles became the first man to break 19.8 in the 200m on five separate occasions. Only Lyles and Usain Bolt had done it four times in one year.
Lyles’ fastest time this year — a 19.50 on July 5 — came with no tailwind and made him the fourth-fastest ma in history. It had pundits talking about the two hallowed numbers in the event — 19.32 (Michael Johnson‘s then-world record from the 1996 Olympics, which remains the American record) and 19.19 (Bolt’s world record).
Lyles “is the only American I’ve seen that I believe can surpass 19.32,” Johnson tweeted on July 28, when Lyles won the U.S. 200m title in 19.78 into a headwind. “However he’s probably more appropriately focusing on 19.19!!!”
Maybe so. A month after nationals, Lyles broke a Bolt meet record in Paris and Instagrammed, “Bolt who?” The accompanying photo had Lyles holding an index finger to his mouth in a shushing gesture.
In a summer that has seen two of Michael Phelps‘ three world records fall, what does Bolt think of the similarly charismatic American who could be gunning for his world record in his trademark event?
“Last season he was doing a lot of good things, this season he has started off good,” Bolt said in July, according to The New York Times. “But as I said, it all comes down to the championship. Is he confident to come into a race after running three races and show up? For me he has shown that he has talent, but when the championship comes, we will see what happens.”
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