The US men’s sprinting event reached its climax on Thursday with Eugene’s Hayward Field playing host to a quite splendid second half hat-trick in the 200m after the one achieved five days ago in the 100m.
This time the stars of the show were Noah Lyles, Kenneth Bednarek and Erriyon Knighton, who repeated what Justin Gatlin, Wallace Spearmon, Jr. and John Capel achieved in Helsinki 2005, with the second all-American podium in the men’s 200m.
The race was shaping up to be a neck-and-neck battle between defending champion Lyles and the new jewel in the crown, Knighton, who at 18 has been able to beat Usain Bolt‘s bests in the 100m and 200m at the same age.
Lyles, who could only finish third in Tokyo, had a thorn in his side and arrived in Eugene eager to put the doubts surrounding him to rest, especially after Knighton’s exponential media growth.
The sprinter from Gainesville, Florida, a gymnast in his youth and a lover of fashion, design and Japanese anime, took the lead from the first steps – he passed the 100 in 10.15 – and gradually increased the cadence of his stride until he crossed the finish line with an impressive 19.32 (+0.4), which equalled Michael Johnson‘s old US record set in Atlanta ’96.
Seconds later, the record was corrected (19.31) and Lyles exploded with joy, aware that, in addition to beating the ‘Waco Express’, he had become the third fastest man in history in the 200m behind Usain Bolt (19.19) and Yohan Blake (19.26).
Second place went to Bednarek, who repeated last year’s Olympic silver with a time of 19.77, while Knighton had to settle for bronze (19.80), becoming the youngest ever 200m medallist at 18 years and 174 days.
Knighton is a newcomer to track and field, a sport he only took up in earnest in 2019. Before that, he had played wide receiver in American football, until a coach saw his athletic potential and advised him to try his hand on the track.
Two years later, he became the youngest athlete to represent the United States at the Olympic Games since Tokyo 1964, when Jim Ryun competed in the 1,500.
Knighton turned professional just days before his 17th birthday and continued his spectacular progress this season, running 19.49 on 30 April in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
A warning and a certainty
That performance made him the favourite for the gold medal in Eugene, a title that Lyles claimed for hierarchy and prestige and that he reaffirmed in the trials with a resounding triumph.
The title and the record are a huge accolade for a 25-year-old athlete who is as famous for his eccentricities as he is for his undoubted talent and who did not hesitate to imitate Goku, the central character in Dragon Ball, after winning his second world gold in the 200m.
Minutes later, and with the stands almost empty, Michael Johnson embraced Lyles on the same track and ended up raising his arm in a sign of respect, as if handing him the crown.