Noah Lyles, eyed by Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson, set for spotlight of world championships 200m final

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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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World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

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U.S. women’s soccer team begins Olympic qualifying, which should rest on one match

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The U.S. women’s soccer team has never been in danger in Olympic qualifying, but that doesn’t change this fact: It must win on Feb. 7 to reach the Tokyo Games.

The CONCACAF tournament begins Tuesday in Houston, where the world champion Americans face world No. 72 Haiti. The last two group games are against No. 68 Panama on Friday and No. 37 Costa Rica on Feb. 3. The top two nations from the group advance to Feb. 7 semifinals.

The U.S. roster, with 18 of its 20 players coming from the 2019 World Cup team, is here.

Since CONCACAF qualifies two nations to the Olympics, the semifinals are the deciding games.

Should the U.S. win its group, it would face the runner-up from the other group in a winner-goes-to-Tokyo match. The other group (world ranking):

Canada (8)
Mexico (37)
Jamaica (53)
St. Kitts and Nevis (127)

Chaos could result in the unlikely event that either the U.S. or Canada finishes second in its group, and the two North American powers play a semifinal.

The U.S. is undefeated in Olympic qualifying history, since the tournament format began in 2004 — 15-0 with a goal differential of 88-1 (not counting matches played once they’ve already clinched qualification). The lone goal allowed came in a group-stage match in 2008, when the U.S. was already assured a spot in the semifinals.

Still, the U.S. knows the feeling of one poor outing in an important match. In 2010, it lost to Mexico in a winner-to-the-World Cup match. The U.S. was forced to win a last-chance, home-and-home playoff against a UEFA team — Italy — for the last spot in the World Cup.

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