Lyles celebrates 25th place with a cruise through World Qualifiers

Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela competes in the women's triple jump final at the World Championships in Athletics, Monday, July 18, 2022, in Eugene, Oregon.  (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela competes in the women’s triple jump final at the World Championships in Athletics, Monday, July 18, 2022, in Eugene, Oregon. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)


Noah Lyles looked to his right and saw no one. He glanced again, and still seeing no one, he jerked his finger at the six stragglers behind him.

It’s all part of the fun – remember that word? — and part of the show delivered by America’s most engaging sprinter on Monday, which turned out to be both Lyles’ 25th birthday and the opening night of his flagship race, the 200 meters, at the World Championships. world.

Lyles, who ran her heat in 19.98 seconds, was part of a cavalcade of the world’s best sprinters – including 100 champions Fred Kerley and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, 18-year-old Elaine Thompson-Herah and Erriyon Knighton – who got through the first heats of the 200 without too much fuss.

“A totally different vibe,” Lyles called racing in 2022 now that fans have returned to stadiums that were largely empty for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic. “If anything, that makes it more fun. I was able to come here and, I feel like I’m the most “me” I’ve been in years.

Whether this rediscovery helps him win gold, silver, bronze or nothing at all, Lyles said he loves the sport again. The finals are Thursday. But earlier on his birthday, Lyles, who is as open about his mental health struggles and the social issues facing the world as he is about sprinting, put things into perspective on social media.

“At this point in a black man’s life, we are either imprisoned for life, or killed in gang-related events, or killed just for the color of our skin,” Lyles tweeted. “So when I say glad I turned 25, I mean it!!!”

Lyles wasn’t the only one celebrating a milestone on another clear, cool night for the race in Eugene, where the stands were about three-quarters full.

Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam ran the final heptathlon event, the 800 meters, in 2 minutes and 13 seconds to overtake Anouk Vetter of the Netherlands for her second world championship, which comes with two Olympic titles.

US NCAA champion Anna Hall won the 800m in 2:06.67 to retain third place overall.

“I was hoping to come out with a PR (personal best) and prove to myself that I belong here and can be successful here,” Hall said. “So to come away with a really big score and a medal is more than I could ask for.”

In the triple jump, world record holder Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela clinched her third world title with a leap of 15.47 meters (50ft, 9in) for a margin of 0.58 (1ft, 10in ) on Jamaican Shanieka Ricketts. Tori Franklin won bronze to bring the US medal count to 16 after four days of action.

In the men’s steeplechase, Moroccan Soufiane El Bakkali won by moving away to add a world gold medal to the one he won in Tokyo last year.

Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon won her second world title in the 1,500 meters in 3 minutes 52.96 seconds. She also has two Olympic titles.

In the high jump, a rematch of last year’s thrilling Olympic encounter between Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi resulted in less drama, but another title for Barshim.

The ‘Qatari Falcon’ flapped its arms in celebration after clearing 2.35 meters (7-8 1/2) on its first attempt, but was more subdued when clearing 2.37 (7-9) . Tamberi missed all three attempts at the lower distance and finished fourth. Barshim now has three world championships, including the one he won in front of his home crowd in Doha three years ago.

On the road earlier today, Gotytom Gebreslase won the Ethiopian gold medal in the marathons. After racing alongside Judith Jeptum Korir for miles, Gebreslase passed her late and won by nine seconds in a championship record time of 2 hours, 18 minutes, 11 seconds.

Back at the stadium, Lyles was the only man to break 20 seconds on a stress-free night in the 200. His main competition this week could come from top-ranked teammate Kenny Bednarek or Kerley. Also, Knighton, whose 20.01 is tied for the second fastest time of the evening.

Last month at the Nationals, Lyles beat Knighton to the line and waved his finger there as well. Knighton didn’t seem to like it, even though he and Lyles put it on in the past.

“It’s really cold,” Knighton said. “There’s no beef or anything. In the end, it’s just a sport.

It’s entertainment too, and Lyles is a firm believer that artists like him need a crowd to perform at their best.

That might help explain why the past two years have been so difficult. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Lyles as hard as any athlete. Competing in empty stadiums and in towns without friends, family or coaches to support him made things difficult.

The man some thought could win Olympic gold in one, two or three events ended up with a bronze medal in the 200m.

The results this week – who knows? But now that the fans are back, Lyles is having fun again. It was inspired earlier this year by a tweet from sprinting great Michael Johnson.

“He was like ‘People don’t go to races to watch people race. They’re going to watch because they love watching them run,” Lyles said. “And I really felt like that spoke to me. I was like, ‘You know what, I might not be the best person here, but I’m definitely the person people want to see.’ “


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Naomi C. Amerson