Thu | Oct 6, 2022

Bolt record under real American threat

Published:Tuesday | August 16, 2022 | 12:09 AMHubert Lawrence/Gleaner Writer
Noah Lyles opens his arms after completing a famous 200-metre title defence at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Noah Lyles opens his arms after completing a famous 200-metre title defence at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Usain Bolt at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing
Usain Bolt at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing
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THERE’S A patriotic flavour to the refusal to accept the notion of Noah Lyles targeting Usain Bolt’s 200-metre world record. However, the data suggests that Lyles has earned the right to think Bolt’s monumental 2009 time of 19.19 seconds is within...

THERE’S A patriotic flavour to the refusal to accept the notion of Noah Lyles targeting Usain Bolt’s 200-metre world record.

However, the data suggests that Lyles has earned the right to think Bolt’s monumental 2009 time of 19.19 seconds is within reach.

Lyles has paid his dues with back-to-back World Championship victories over 200 metres, with an impressive title defence last month in Eugene, Oregon. The time, 19.31 seconds, clipped 0.01 off the US record held by no less than all-time great Michael Johnson.

Lyles went to Eugene with a personal best of 19.50 seconds and on a wave of speed that brought him past wonder boy Erriyon Knighton with a show of bravado that cost him some admirers. As he passed the 18-year-old, he pantomimed a gunslinger’s pistol and ‘shot’ his rival near the finish.

Not everyone was pleased.

Despite that and what seemed to be an intentionally slow first 100, Lyles clocked 19.67 seconds.

Repeat victories in the 200 are rare and the only other man with two World Championship 200-metre gold medals is Calvin Smith, won in 1983 and 1987. The only man with more is, of course, Bolt, with four straight.

The last two world record holders had different skill sets.

The then 22-year-old Bolt had speed to burn. Earlier in the same week, he lowered his own 100-metre world record to 9.58 seconds. Days before Johnson cut the record from the time of 19.66 seconds he set at the 1996 US Trials to 19.32, the 29-year-old Johnson travelled 400 metres in 43.49 seconds, which was an Olympic record.

Two years earlier at the 1993 World Championships, he anchored a USA 4x400 quartet to a world record with the fastest relay split ever – 42.9 seconds.

Bolt was no weakling either. In 2010, he ran an urgent 4x400 anchor leg for the Racers at the Gibson Relays in 44.2 seconds. If Bolt and Johnson are any guide, Lyles may have to improve his 100 and 400 personal bests which are 9.86 and 47.04 seconds, respectively, to get better at 200 metres.

Given that his father Kevin was a 45.01 400-metre man, it may be easier for Lyles to get faster by getting stronger.

There’s no safety in thinking it’s a long way from 19.31 to 19.19. Bolt zoomed from 19.75 seconds, beating Donald Quarrie’s 1971 former World and national record of 19.86 in 2007, to 19.30 in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics before going 0.11 seconds faster in Berlin. Johnson carved 0.06 off the 1979 mark by Italian Pietro Mennea – 19.72 – at the 1996 Trials before his famous 19.32-second run in Atlanta.

Now that Lyles is at 19.31, it stands to reason that the 25-year-old American is entitled to think that 19.10 is just around the corner.