July 23, 2024

EUGENE — Noah Lyles sprinted with an autumn-like breeze at his back, shaded from the setting sun by seats rising to form the west side of Hayward Field, from starting blocks toward the finish line of the U.S. Olympic Trials 100m away, and then he kept on going, around the turn and down the backstretch of the rust-colored track, another 150m beyond what was required. He ran from Oregon toward France and the Paris Olympic Games, from a terrific now toward an ever-more promising next. He ran toward all those things.

Lyles also ran while further and more completely fulfilling a prophecy written here eight years ago, so long ago that it was in a different stadium (and in many ways, a different time). He was just 18 years old, running in a red, white and blue kit from his high school in suburban Washington, D.C. The Trials love few things more than precocity and Lyles provided it: He won a semifinal in the 200m and finished fourth in the final, missing the Olympic team by just .09-seconds. The sport of track and field, meanwhile, loves nothing more than translating that precocity to certain future greatness. Noah Lyles, the sport decided, would be great.

But anticipated greatness — and especially Olympic greatness, the kind that counts most in track and field — almost always takes a little more time than scheduled, and is never guaranteed. Lyles has won four individual world titles, but just a bronze medal in the 200m at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Sunday night, Lyles, now 26 years old, tied his personal best of 9.83 seconds, established in winning the world title last summer in Budapest. He drew clear of 2022 world champion Fred Kerley and Tokyo Olympic 200m silver medalist Kenny Bednarek with 30m left in the race, and as he hit the line threw his right arm into the air, and raised his index finger in celebration.

Next Saturday he will run the final of the 200m (provided he gets through the rounds, which is a near-certainty) and try to make the U.S. team in a second event and potentially become the first U.S. male sprinter to win the Olympic 100/200m double since Carl Lewis in 1984.Head of USA Track and Field Made $3.8 Million Last Year ...

And the prophecy now? Looking more prescient than ever. “This is basically the play,” said Lyles in his post-race press conference. “And the play is good right now.”

Don’t misunderstand: Lyles’s resume is fabulous. If he retired tomorrow (he won’t, but stay with me), he would be among the best U.S. sprinters in history. Although not the very best — that could lie ahead. He won the 200m world title in 2019, and in 2022 again won the world title, in 19.31 seconds, breaking Michael Johnson’s American record. Last summer he won the 100m and 200m at worlds, and ran on Team USA’s gold medal 4x100m relay. It’s what happened in the middle of all those world titles that muddies Lyles’s record.

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