Noah Lyles, after hardest moments, wins world 200m on triple gold medal day for U.S.

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Noah Lyles made it look so easy the last two seasons, his victories so predictable that pre-race fodder focused not on his competition, but on his socks, his hair and which dance he would perform in celebration afterward.

When Lyles spoke after winning the world 200m title in his global championships debut on Tuesday night, the 22-year-old told a very different story.

“The last three weeks was actually some of the hardest moments of my career. … I felt like I went through the wilderness,” he said after winning in 19.83 seconds in Doha, after training and competing in Europe and then the Qatari capital since early September. “I was isolated from my home, from family. It was just training and eating and sleeping and doing it in another country where people don’t speak your language.”

That is a powerful statement given the life of Lyles, one of three Americans to earn gold on Tuesday. The others were Donavan Brazier, the first U.S. 800m runner to win a world title (and in American record time) and Sam Kendricks, a repeat pole vault champion.

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Lyles was hospitalized as a young child with chronic asthma. He was in tears as a high school freshman, worried that in four years he would be kicked off a college track team because he would fail academically (Lyles is open that he was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder and dyslexia and in remedial school classes). He cried again in 2017, when a torn hamstring kept him out of the USATF Outdoor Championships and thus out of the world championships, where he would have been a medal favorite.

Then on Sept. 8, Lyles tweeted that he had been homesick but felt loved for his family sent a care package. Four days later, mom Keisha Caine Bishop tweeted, “When one of your children is homesick in Europe and can’t come home, what do you do? Fly to them with homemade food, gifts, socks and love!”

Adversity was not part of Lyles’ story this season going into Doha. He has lost just once since finishing fourth at the 2016 Olympic trials coming out of high school (he turned pro rather than enroll at the University of Florida). He went into Tuesday’s final with the eight fastest times of the eight men in the field.

Yet difficulty was on his mind before the race, when he spoke with Bishop and his brother, fellow pro sprinter Josephus Lyles, to conclude his longest track season.

“Me and my mom, we sat down and we talked about the journey we’ve had,” he said. “We knew that this was it. This is where we were going to prove that we have the spirit, that we have the emotion, that we have the physical toughness to get through this long journey.”

The test came around the curve. In a surprise, Lyles trailed Brit Adam Gemili halfway through the race. He summoned not the flash of power associated with his silver hair (an homage to Dragon Ball Z character Goku), but instead muscled a more prolonged move into the lead. He held off Canadian Olympic silver medalist Andre De Grasse by .12. Ecuador’s Alex Quinonez took bronze.

“I knew I could swing off and grab that momentum,” Lyles said. “No matter where I was in the race, I will always be able to come back because I’ve been in last place, and I’ve grabbed the win.”

He did, in his slowest time in 10 meets dating to May 2018.

“Closer than I thought it was going to be,” said Lyles, who all year has reminded himself that he would be world champion, either by phone notes or, every day after practice, hitting his car window and repeating, “I’m going to be world champion,” as music blasted, he reportedly told the BBC after Tuesday’s win.

Lyles also revealed that he wanted to run 19.3 seconds, taking his personal best down from 19.5 and perhaps breaking Michael Johnson‘s American record 19.32 from the Atlanta Olympics. And moving closer to Usain Bolt‘s world record of 19.19.

“People are trying to say they want you to run a world record. You’re just trying to win a gold medal,” Lyles said. “This season was probably not my hardest season physically, but my hardest season mentally.”

Lyles, who lacks no charisma or confidence with the word “ICON” tattooed on his side, could not wrap his head around the accomplishment.

“It’s like something you’ve imagined so many times in your head,” he said, “that once you actually achieve it, it’s like, I thought we already did this.”

He also would not allay hype for next year, when Lyles and world 100m champion Christian Coleman are both expected to race the 100m and the 200m, looking to succeed Bolt in pulling off the Olympic sprint double. Lyles said he can still improve, notably in his start and top-end speed.

Around the time of Lyles’ win, Bolt’s Instagram story published a black background with these words in white: “Usain Bolt Who???” That conjured memories of a Lyles Instagram story from late August, when he broke a Bolt meet record and posted an image of himself holding his index finger to his mouth in a shushing gesture with the caption, “Meet Record Bolt who?” Perhaps a little more motivation for 10 months from now.

“On the right day with the right conditions and the right training,” Lyles said, “hopefully a world record will pop up.”

In other Tuesday finals, Brazier broke a 34-year-old American record to become the first U.S. 800m runner to win a world title. Brazier, who clocked 1:42.34 to take .26 off Johnny Gray‘s mark, moved to the lead with 300 meters to go and stretched it out to 1.13 seconds over silver medalist Amel Tuka of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Brazier goes into the Olympic year looking to become the first American to win an Olympic 800m title since Dave Wottle did so wearing a hat in Munich in 1972. Brazier, 22, may have to fend with the return of double Olympic champion and world-record holder David Rudisha, who hasn’t competed in more than a year, partly due to injury.

“I look up to my idol Muhammad Ali, and he won his first world championship at 22 years old,” Brazier told Lewis Johnson on NBCSN. Brazier runs for the Nike Oregon Project, whose founder, Alberto Salazar, was on Monday banned four years in a doping case. Brazier, who has a clean record, is coached by Pete Julian, not Salazar.

Kendricks repeated as world champion in the pole vault by clearing 5.97 meters and beating Louisiana-raised Swedish 19-year-old Mondo Duplantis on prior misses. Next year, the first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve will look to better his Rio Olympic finish of third.

Worlds continue Wednesday, highlighted by Rio Olympic champion Omar McLeod in the final rounds of the 110m hurdles.

In non-finals Tuesday, the one-two finishers from the USATF Outdoor Championships, Shakima Wimbley and Kendall Ellis, were eliminated in the 400m semifinals. Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas, undefeated for two years, and 2017 World gold and silver medalists Phyllis Francis of the U.S. and Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain reached Thursday’s final.

The women’s 200m final on Wednesday will include none of the reigning Olympic or world medalists. Rio Olympic champion Elaine Thompson was the latest to withdraw before Tuesday’s semifinals, reportedly with an Achilles injury after she placed fourth in the 100m on Sunday. Brit Dina Asher-Smith, the fastest in the world last year, is an overwhelming favorite given nobody else in the final ranked in the top 13 in the world in 2018.

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report from Doha.

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Tommy Ford ends U.S. men’s World Cup drought at Beaver Creek

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Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup win at age 30 and ended the U.S. men’s longest victory and podium droughts in two decades.

Ford won the giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday, the last North American race on tour this season. He prevailed by eight tenths of a second combining times over two runs.

“It doesn’t beat doing it here. I’ve been working hard,” Ford said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “No secret, just kept it simple and really trusted what I was doing.”

Norwegians Henrik Kristoffersen and Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen were second and third. American Ted Ligety, fourth after the opening run, finished 11th.

Full results are here.

Ford became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup since Travis Ganong took a downhill on Jan. 27, 2017. He also became the first U.S. male podium finisher since Ligety in January 2018. Both were the longest droughts for the program since the late 1990s.

Ford, a 2010 and 2018 Olympian who missed the 2014 Olympics due to a broken femur, had been working toward this moment.

He finished a World Cup career-high fourth at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27. Last season, the Oregon native and former Dartmouth student had a pair of fifths.

The men’s World Cup moves to Val d’Isere, France, next weekend for a giant slalom and slalom.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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