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Noah Lyles breaks Michael Johnson’s American record; U.S. sweeps world 200m

Noah Lyles bests Michael Johnson's 26-year American record, leading Team USA to a sweep of the men's 200m at the World Athletics Championship in Eugene, Oregon.

For Noah Lyles, this season wasn’t merely about improving his bronze-medal finish from the Olympics. It wasn’t only about suppressing 18-year-old phenom Erriyon Knighton, whose electrifying 19.49-second run on a Saturday afternoon in April caused Lyles to stop driving, turn around from his dinner plans (Thai food) and dive back into his craft.

From the start, it was about running 19.31 seconds in the 200m (or faster) to break Michael Johnson‘s American record. At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Johnson ran 19.32 seconds in golden shoes in the 200m final, lowering his world record by an astonishing .34 of a second in one of the most famous sprints in history.

When Lyles crossed the finish line in the world track and field championships 200m final in Eugene, Oregon, on Thursday night, the clock read 19.32. Lyles, whose previous personal best was 19.50, turned to the crowd and noticed another roar, a supplement to the one moments earlier reacting to his blowout victory.

Lyles knew something was up. He peered to another scoreboard showing what the fans had noticed -- his winning time changed to 19.31, the number that he had worked for all season. (It’s common in track and field for initial, unofficial finishing times to change slightly as electronic timing processes.)

“I didn’t want it to say 32,” Lyles said. “I wanted my own time. Nobody wants to share a record.

“All me and my coach have been talking about was like, ‘We’re going after that record.’”

Lyles, 25, repeated as world champion and led a U.S. sweep of the men’s 200m medals with Kenny Bednarek (19.77) and Knighton (19.80). That came 15 minutes after Jamaican Shericka Jackson won the women’s 200m in 21.45 seconds, the second-fastest time in history behind Florence Griffith-Joyner‘s world record of 21.34 from the 1988 Olympics. On Her Turf has more on the women’s 200m here.

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For the men’s 200m, only Jamaicans Usain Bolt (19.19) and Yohan Blake (19.26) have run faster than Lyles, who had been expected to take gold at the Tokyo Games.

Lyles said the difference between 2021 and 2022 was that he put no pressure on himself this year.

“You can go through a dark storm and come out of it better than you were before,” he said.

The final was billed as a showdown between budding rivals Lyles and Knighton, but Lyles put it away before the straightaway by running the best curve of his life.

“It was always there. I was just waiting for it to hit,” said Lyles, who didn’t run the 100m, his complementary event, this year because he was focused on Johnson’s record (and, to a degree, beating Knighton). “It was always going to come, as soon as I got the start I wanted and was able to get a race where I get my [first] 100 [meters].”

Johnson, at Hayward Field working for the BBC, went on the track and hugged Lyles, whose dad, Kevin, raced against Johnson in the 1990s.

“I knew that he was going to run faster than 19.32 some day,” said Johnson, who met Lyles for the first time. “To be honest, when you’ve held the world record, you don’t really focus on the national record. ... For Noah, I don’t think he really cares about the American record. He wants a world record. It might be within his reach.”

Bednarek came back from a broken toe to repeat his silver from Tokyo.

Knighton, fourth in Tokyo, became the youngest individual sprint medalist in world championships history, according to Bill Mallon of Knighton was expected to lead off the turn but did not, in part because he mistakenly hit the side of a starting block with his right foot reacting to the gun.

“I was on the podium,” he said, “so I can’t be mad.”

Three other Americans swept the 100m medals last Saturday -- Fred Kerley, Marvin Bracy-Williams and Trayvon Bromell.

In the women’s 200m, Jackson became the only person to win a world medal in the 100m, 200m and 400m in their career. Afterward, she responded “definitely” to a pair of questions -- did you think you would run that fast? And, can you run faster?

She found redemption from the Olympic 200m, when she was eliminated in the heats due to a lackluster effort.

“Last year was a disaster,” she said. “I wanted redemption.”

Countrywoman Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce took silver, four days after winning her fifth world title in the 100m at age 35. Fraser-Pryce, who already has the same number of Olympic medals as Bolt (eight), will match Bolt at 14 world championships medals with a 4x100m relay medal on Saturday.

Abby Steiner was the top American in fifth. The U.S. got zero medals out of the women’s flat sprints (100m, 200m and 400m) for the first time in world championships history.

In non-finals Thursday, Christian Taylor, a six-time gold medalist between the Olympics and worlds, failed to make Saturday’s triple jump final. Taylor, a 32-year-old who missed the Tokyo Games after rupturing an Achilles, was 18th in qualifying.

Olympic champion Emmanuel Korir of Kenya headlined the qualifiers into Saturday’s men’s 800m final. All four Americans, including injured reigning world champion Donavan Brazier, were previously eliminated in the first round.

Olympic champion Athing Mu advanced to Friday’s women’s 800m semifinals along with countrywomen Raevyn Rogers (Olympic bronze medalist) and Ajeé Wilson (two-time world bronze medalist).

Advancing to Sunday’s men’s 5000m final: reigning Olympic champions in the 1500m (Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen), 5000m (Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei) and 10,000m (Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega).

Worlds continue Friday with five finals, including the men’s and women’s 400m and the women’s 400m hurdles with Olympic gold medalist and world record holder Sydney McLaughlin.

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