BUDAPEST, Hungary — Noah Lyles calls himself the “Told you’re not a 100 guy.” That didn’t stop him.
In fact, nobody could Sunday at the world championships in what has always been his second-best race. Now, he doesn’t see anyone slowing his path to becoming the world’s next great Olympic sprinter.
The 26-year-old American reeled in the field to win the 100-meter world title in 9.83 seconds — a victory that puts him in position to be the first man to complete the 100-200 double since Usain Bolt made a habit of it at Olympics and world championships from 2008 to 2016.
Witty, outspoken, unafraid to bet on himself, Lyles might just be the guy to add some fire back to a sprint game where titles have been shuffled between men of few words and names from out of nowhere since Bolt left six years ago. The Paris Olympics are less than 12 months away.
“I’ve known for a long time that I’ve got so much more to give to this event, but I’ve just been giving a lot to the 200,” said Lyles, who is favored to defend his title in that event Friday. “And as people look back at this year, they’re gonna be, like, ‘This is the year that Noah won the 200, the 100 and the four-by-[100 relay].’ And then they’ll be like, ‘That is the start of a dynasty.'”
If there were doubters, though, they had the right.
Although not a complete newcomer to the 100, Lyles has a thin résumé at that distance. His most notable finishes: a win in a Diamond League meet four years ago and gold at the world under-20 championships in 2016. He barely qualified for worlds in the shorter race after battling with COVID-19 in the lead-up to U.S. nationals last month.
Behind the scenes, though, things have been changing. Lyles knew he needed more work on the first halves of his 200-meter races to get better at his signature event. That’s where the focus went. He said recently that his coach, Lance Brauman, was getting excited about the progress and that Brauman “is a guy who does not get excited at all.”
“I listen to the athlete, and they tell me what they want to try to do,” Brauman said. “When I got him, everybody in the world told me he needs to be a [200-400] guy. But he wanted to be a 100-meter runner.”
That was Bolt’s story, too. And although there will never be another Bolt, Lyles isn’t afraid to dream big.
He raised eyebrows with an Instagram post earlier this summer in which he declared he wanted to run 9.65 in the 100, a time only Bolt has bettered, and 19.10 in the 200, which would shatter the Jamaican’s world record of 19.19. Lyles, whose biggest competition in the 200 is expected to come from 19-year-old Erryion Knighton, currently holds the American record at 19.31.
Defending 100 champion Fred Kerley scoffed at the 9.65 goal, adding some spice to the prerace news conference by saying that if Lyles did that, he would run faster. Lyles countered: “That’s what they all say ’til they get beat.”
Lyles didn’t even get a chance to do the honor. Kerley got beat in the semifinal round, and Lyles’ closest competition in the final came from Letsile Tebogo, a 20-year-old from Botswana who became the first African to win a medal in 100 at worlds. He took silver in 9.873, .001 ahead of British national-record holder Zharnel Hughes.
“This is funny for the people, of course,” said the reigning Olympic champ, Marcell Jacobs of Italy, who also was targeted in the prerace trash talk, then also found himself out before the final. “But you have to talk when the race is finished. When the [last] race is finished, not the first.”
Other winners on Day 2 in Budapest were Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei, who won his third straight worlds at 10,000; Britain’s Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who won her second world heptathlon title; Serbia’s Ivana Vuleta in the long jump; and Canada’s Ethan Katzberg in a hammer throw that featured the host country’s first medal of the meet, a bronze from Bence Halasz.
In the 100, Lyles overcame a so-so start out of Lane 6 and was running in about fourth place at the halfway mark. Everyone ahead of him was to his left, and he powered past them and through the line. His first embrace was with American teammate Christian Coleman, the 2019 champion, who finished fifth.
After Lyles saw his name listed first on the scoreboard, he looked into the camera on the track and yelled: “They said it couldn’t be done. They said I wasn’t the one. But thank God I am!”
The entire track world, outside of Kerley and a few others, might agree.
Some believe Lyles is the closest thing to pure star power this sport has seen since Bolt called it quits in 2017, back when the sprinter from Florida was just turning pro.
He has dabbled in singing, art and, more recently, fashion. He’s been unabashed about how he has dealt with his mental health, especially in the post-COVID atmosphere of the Tokyo Olympics. He recently signed a deal for a documentary 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.
“I believe that track and field needs to market itself better,” Lyles said. “It’s easy to market me because I’m out there, I’m excitable, I’m happy, I get engaged with the crowd.”
Winning helps, too.
“I just believed when I got out there that I was the fastest guy,” Lyles said. “And I just kept believing that until I crossed the line.”