Sam Kendricks

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.

MORE: Kirani James, after barely competing for 3 years, returns to worlds

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World track and field championships: 5 men’s events to watch

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Five men’s events to watch at the world track and field championships that begin Friday in Doha, airing live daily on NBC Sports (TV/stream schedule here) In addition, NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage of every event over the 10-day meet….

100m (Final: Saturday)
2016 Olympics: Usain Bolt
(9.81), Justin Gatlin (9.89), Andre De Grasse (9.91) 
2017 Worlds: Justin Gatlin
(9.92), Christian Coleman (9.94), Usain Bolt (9.95)
2019 Rankings: Christian Coleman (9.81), Noah Lyles (9.86), Divine Oduduru (9.86)

An event that appeared clear-cut five weeks ago was shaken a bit early this month. Coleman, the world’s fastest man in 2017, 2018 and 2019, was cleared in a case of missed drug tests but still had to sit out what would have been his last two prep meets. He last raced at the USATF Outdoor Championships on July 28. Still, Coleman is a clear favorite in part due to a lack of competition.

Lyles, the only man to beat him this year, is racing solely the 200m at worlds. The silver-medal favorite a month ago, 37-year-old defending champion Gatlin, pulled up while grabbing his leg for the second time this season on Sept. 3, though his manager reportedly deemed him OK. With Bolt retired, Jamaica is likely to miss the podium for the first time since 2003.

400m Hurdles (Final: Monday)
2016 Olympics: Kerron Clement
(47.73), Boniface Mucheru Tumuti (47.78), Yasmani Copello (47.92)
2017 Worlds: Karsten Warholm (48.35), Yasmani Copello (48.49), Kerron Clement (48.52)
2019 Rankings: Karsten Warholm (46.92), Rai Benjamin (46.98), Abderrahman Samba (47.27)

The oldest world record in men’s track is under threat. Kevin Young‘s mark from the 1992 Olympics — 46.78 seconds — could be broken by any of the three fastest men in the world this year — the Norwegian Warholm, the American (formerly Antiguan) Benjamin and the Qatari Samba. This event sped up incredibly in this Olympic cycle. The winning time in Rio was the slowest for an Olympic final since 1984. Warholm’s winning time two years ago (in the rain) was the slowest in world championships history.

In the last two seasons, Warholm, Benjamin and Samba combined to clock five of the nine fastest times in history, pushing Edwin Moses from the second-fastest man ever to No. 5. The home-favorite Samba is the wild card, having not cleared hurdles in competition since May 18 due to injury.

Pole Vault (Final: Tuesday)
2016 Olympics: Thiago Braz
(6.03), Renaud Lavillenie (5.98), Sam Kendricks (5.85)
2017 Worlds: Sam Kendricks
(5.95), Piotr Lisek (5.89), Renaud Lavillenie (5.89)
2019 Rankings: Sam Kendricks
(6.06), Piotr Lisek (6.02), Mondo Duplantis (6.00)

The marquee field event with stars from around the globe. Kendricks, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve, has been the most consistent this Olympic cycle, capped by breaking the American record at USATF Outdoors two months ago.

Duplantis, the 19-year-old, Louisiana-raised Swede, is 3-3 head-to-head against Kendricks this year, according to Tilastopaja.org. The world-record holder Lavillenie from France has been slowed by injury, failing to win a top-level competition since July 2018.

200m (Final: Tuesday)
2016 Olympics: Usain Bolt
(19.78), Andre De Grasse (20.02), Christophe Lemaitre (20.12)
2017 Worlds: Ramil Guliyev
(20.09), Wayde van Niekerk (20.11), Jereem Richards (20.11)
2019 Rankings: Noah Lyles
(19.50), Michael Norman (19.70), Divine Oduduru (19.73)

Lyles might be the biggest favorite among all events in Doha. The only man to beat him since he finished fourth at the 2016 Olympic trials is Norman, who is only contesting the 400m at worlds.

Coleman is entered here, too, but is stronger in the 100m and will likely have already raced three rounds of that event before the 200m starts. How close can Lyles get to Bolt’s world record 19.19? That 19.50 from July 5 was into a slight headwind.

1500m (Final: Sunday, Oct. 6)
2016 Olympics: Matthew Centrowitz
(3:50.00), Taoufik Makhloufi (3:50.11), Nick Willis (3:50.24)
2017 Worlds: Elijah Manangoi
(3:33.61), Timothy Cheruiyot (3:33.99), Filip Ingebrigtsen (3:34.53)
2019 Rankings: Timothy Cheruiyot
(3:28.77), Jakob Ingebrigtsen (3:30.16), Ronald Musagala (3:30.58)

The only men’s flat race featuring the reigning Olympic champion. Centrowitz, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champion since 1908, faces a major obstacle to his first world title: Cheruiyot. The Kenyan’s 1500/mile record over the last two years, via Tilastopaja: 16 wins, three runners-up in 19 meets. The only defeats were to Manangoi, who is out of worlds with a reported ankle injury.

The Norwegian 19-year-old Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who ran a 3:52 mile at age 17, is a medal favorite after finishing second to Cheruiyot in the Kenyan’s last three Diamond League meets.

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Noah Lyles overtakes Justin Gatlin for Diamond League 100m title

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Noah Lyles beat Justin Gatlin for the first time, overtaking a struggling 37-year-old in the last 20 meters to win the Diamond League 100m title in Zurich on Thursday.

Lyles, who will not race the 100m at next month’s world championships to focus on the 200m, clocked 9.98 seconds into a .4 meter/second headwind. He remains the second-fastest man in the world this year (and this Olympic cycle) behind Christian Coleman.

“The race was not as fast as I wanted,” said Lyles, who has run 9.86 and went on to perform a song in a closing ceremony with Olympic silver medalist pole vaulter Sandi Morris on Thursday night. “Today was like a world championships final for me.”

Coleman, who has clocked 9.79, 9.81 and 9.82 the last three years, was not in Zurich as he as contests a charge of missing three drug tests that could lead to a suspension.

Gatlin led at about 70 meters before slowing to fourth place in 10.08. He came to Zurich as the world championships favorite with Coleman’s status in limbo, but now the likes of 2012 Olympic silver medalist Yohan Blake (third on Thursday) have to be considered.

The Diamond League season concludes with the second of two finals meets in Brussels on Sept. 6. Lyles is expected to race the 200m.

In other events Thursday, Norwegian Karsten Warholm ran the second-fastest 400m hurdles in history, clocking 46.92 seconds. Only Kevin Young‘s 27-year-old world record of 46.78 was faster. Warholm, the 2017 World champion, outdueled American Rai Benjamin, who ran 46.98 to move into a share of third place on the all-time list.

Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo ran the world’s fastest 200m in four years, winning in 21.74 seconds. The Bahamian is undefeated at all distances for two years but will not race the 200m at worlds because it overlaps with the 400m. The IAAF is reviewing Miller-Uibo’s request to change the 2020 Olympic schedule to better accommodate a 200m/400m double. More on that process here.

With Miller-Uibo absent from the worlds 200m, the favorites are Brit Dina Asher-Smith, who was runner-up in 22.08 on Thursday, and Olympic champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica, who is ranked second this year at 22.00 and was third in 22.44 in Zurich.

Sydney McLaughlin ran away from world-record holder Dalilah Muhammad in the 400m hurdles. McLaughlin clocked 52.85 to win by 1.01 seconds, while Muhammad was third in 54.13, well her record-breaking 52.20 from the USATF Outdoor Championships last month. Muhammad and McLaughlin are the only women to break 53 seconds this year, making them the clear gold-silver favorites at worlds.

“I’m shocked and amazed,” McLaughlin said, adding that she must improve after hitting two hurdles. “I didn’t expect to come out here and win.”

Donavan Brazier surged past a gassed Nijel Amos to win the 800m in 1:42.70, one tenth off Johnny Gray‘s 34-year-old American record. Brazier, who notched his first Diamond League win in June, is now a gold-medal contender for worlds. No American has earned an Olympic or world title at 800m since Dave Wottle prevailed in a hat in Munich in 1972.

Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser won the 400m in 50.24 seconds against a field lacking Miller-Uibo. Naser hasn’t been beaten by anyone other than Miller-Uibo in two years.

World-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech won a 3000m steeplechase that included four of the six fastest women in history, plus reigning world champion Emma Coburn. Chepkoech, whose world record is 8:44.32, won in 9:01.71 to consolidate world championships favorite status. Coburn was 8.3 seconds slower in sixth and faces a difficult task to beat two of the four Kenyans at worlds next month to get back on the podium.

Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan followed up her mile world record from last month by winning the 1500m over a field including world-record holder Genzebe Dibaba. Hassan clocked 3:57.08, well off the world’s fastest time of 2019 that she owns (3:55.30). Hassan has range from 800m through the 10,000m, and it’s unknown what her world championships schedule will be.

American record holder Sam Kendricks won the pole vault over a field that included the world-record holder (Renaud Lavillenie of France) and Rio Olympic champion (Thiago Braz of Brazil). Kendricks, who leads the world this year with a 6.06-meter clearance, needed only to get past 5.93 for his second Diamond League title.

Cuban 21-year-old Juan Miguel Echevarria won the long jump with an 8.65-meter leap, farthest in the world this year.

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