Thursday night was for the sprinters at the World Athletics Championships, as the men’s and women’s 200 meter finals took center stage in the only medal races of the session in Eugene, Oregon.
American Noah Lyles ran the third-fastest time in history and broke Michael Johnson’s American record, crossing the line in 19.31 seconds and winning the men’s race in dominant fashion. Not known for running a great curve, Lyles had a tremendous start and took all of the suspense out of the finish before it was halfway over.
Just as they did in the 100 meters, the United States swept the medals in the 200: behind Lyles was Kenny Bednarek in 19.77 seconds, and 18-year-old sensation Erriyon Knighton in 19.80 seconds.
The 25-year-old Lyles was the defending World champion but at the Tokyo Olympics last summer was disappointed to finish as bronze medalist; he has since revealed that he ran with a swelling in his knee, bad enough to affect him but not so bad that he couldn’t race.
A Virginia native — he and his brother Josephus starred at T.C. Williams High, immortalized in “Remember the Titans” — Lyles is beloved for his playful spirit and candor. After the medal ceremony he joyously jumped on the back of the Championships. Fluffy yellow mascot, Legend, and got a piggy-back for a few seconds, jumping off and immediately going to the stands for autographs and selfies. Lyles’ long coils are currently dyed a light brown, but in the past he’s colored it silver, an homage to Goku of “Dragon Ball Z,” and he’s always open about his mental health journey.
Bednarek, who is 23, matched the silver he’d won in Tokyo in the 200, while Knighton became the youngest man to win a sprint medal in Worlds history.
After a poor showing from the American men at the Olympics last summer when they only won two gold medals — in shot put and the 4x400m relay — they have certainly bounced back this year at Worlds; Lyles’ win is the fourth gold for the U.S. men, with a strong chance for three more in the closing days of the meet.
The thrilling men’s race matched the women’s race, which had been contested just minutes earlier.
Jamaica’s women again asserted their short-distance dominance, with Shericka Jackson winning gold in a stunning 21.45 seconds and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce silver in 21.81 in the women’s 200; Great Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith, the defending champion, ran to bronze in 22.02.
Jackson’s time makes her the fastest living woman on Earth — only the late Florence Griffith-Joyner, who ran a 21.34 in 1988, has ever run faster.
Fraser-Pryce, as is her way, was stellar out of the blocks but couldn’t sustain it; Jackson passed her with around 90 meters to go and just kept pulling away, her arms driving her to the finish line. A veteran of several global championship meets, Jackson has multiple 400-meter bronze medals, from the 2015 and 2019 World Championships and the 2016 Rio Olympics as well as relay golds, but has since dropped down to the 200 and 100.
Earlier this week, she won silver in the 100m behind Fraser-Pryce, but Thursday was finally her night to get an individual gold.