Noah Lyles captured the 100m world title on Sunday, finishing in 9.83 seconds for a victory that reshuffled the deck for next year’s Olympics and cements his status as the world’s No 1 sprinter.
It was a victory that maybe only he and those close to him saw coming. The 200m specialist, who will defend his title in that event later this week, barely qualified for the 100 after battling with Covid in the lead-up to the US nationals last month.
More recently, he posted on social media that he could run 9.65, a thought that defending champion Fred Kerley scoffed at.
But Kerley didn’t make it out of the semifinals and Lyles’s closest competition in the final came from Letsile Tebogo, a 20-year-old from Botswana, who finished in 9.87, .001sec ahead of Great Britain’s Zharnel Hughes. Hughes’s bronze was the first time a British man had won an individual 100m medal at the world championships in 20 years.
Running from Lane 6, Lyles overcame a so-so start, and was running in fourth place at the halfway mark. Everyone ahead of him was to his left, and he powered past them to victory. His first embrace was with American teammate Christian Coleman, the 2019 champion who finished fifth.
“I came here for three golds, ticked off one, others are coming,” Lyles said. “[The] 100m was the hardest on … I will have fun with the event I love now [the 200m].
“Coleman always has the fast start. He had it the whole season, he was even getting better and better. I expected him to do what he does and if he would be the only one in front of me, it would be my race. I needed to make sure that I was accelerating, when I was at the 60m, I took the lead.”
Tebogo made some history of his own. His medal was the first won by an African man in the 100m at the world championships.
“This medal isn’t for me, it’s for Botswana, for Africa, because Africa has been short of medals in men’s sprints,” he said. “It’s really amazing for Africa; we have been thirsting for a medal.”
Hughes collapsed with joy after securing his medal.
“All these years, all these years of lessons, tribulations, of patience, I stuck to it,” Hughes said. “I had self-belief and trust in speed, my coach, and it’s all come together at last in the 100m at a world championships: I am a bronze medallist.”
Some believe Lyles is the closest thing to pure star power men’s sprinting has seen since Usain Bolt called it quits in 2017.
Since then, Lyles has forged quite a personality.
He’s been open about the mental-health struggles he has endured, especially in the post-Covid atmosphere of the Tokyo Olympics. He recently signed a deal for a Netflix series to take people behind the scenes of his training – the thought being that the sport, struggling for relevance in the post-Bolt era, needs more time in the limelight.
His latest gambit was the posting of his goals on Instagram. The 9.65 in the 100m is still a distant goal, but he has a gold medal in the event and matched Hughes for the best time in the world this year. He also listed 19.10 as an aim in the 200, which would break Bolt’s record. The final in that event is set for Friday night.