Noah Lyles has tremendous talent; that is a fact. Can he double at the World Champs and US Champs in 2023? Deji Ogeyingbo makes a strong argument for the two-time 200-meter world champion.
Lyles’ Dilemma: Should the 200m World Champion double up at the world championships or stick to his signature event?
The men’s sprint this year is gradually shaping up to be one of a kind. So many athletes have thrown their hats in the ring. Only nine medals can be won in the 100m/200m/400m, and the battle for these medals can shape the careers of these sprinters who bank on winning medals at a global championship to put them in good negotiating stead with their sponsors. It’s literally a race to finish.
Athletes commonly do the 100m/200m double or the 200m/400m double. The latter is rarely trampled upon knowing fully well the magnitude of training required to pull it off at major championships. Then there is the issue of scheduling, too. There has only been one precedence, with the former world record holder winning laurels over both distances.
The 100m/200m are familiar territories for sprinters, but only a few have been able to pull it off by snagging medals of any color. Usain Bolt, Carl Lewis, Tyson Gay, and Justin Gatlin are some of the sprinters to have taken a punt at both events and won medals in the past. You will have to go way back to the Beijing 2015 World Championships to see an athlete conquer both races. The same goes for the Olympics. Bolt did the double in Rio 2016.
Why is that? There is an argument that the margins have gotten thinner, and the pool of athletes popping into the scene every year continues to grow, hence limiting the chances at the top. But as versatility goes, if one is to stake his money on a sprinter who has got the juice to take on both races at worlds this year is Noah Lyles. The question is, should he?
The current world champion Fred Kerley isn’t far off and came close to pulling it off in Oregon last year, but he got crocked over the 200m while doing the rounds. Can he challenge Lyles in the 200m? I doubt. Former world champion Christian Coleman is a freak of nature over the 100m, but he never seems to cut his teeth in the 200m. Maybe Michael Norman or perhaps teenage sensation Erriyon Knighton? The thing is, the risk seems to outweigh the reward for these sprinters.
What has gone wrong? Why are these sprinters settling for just one event these days? Why is Lyles the only sprinter on the grid best suited to dabble at such an idea? The simple answer is money and contract. But that’s a different confab. The pool is getting larger, and the pie is getting smaller. Anyone who can grab as much as he can on the track will surely see it translate to off-track success. To be honest, few have since the days of guess who? Bolt.
So, back to Lyles. What makes him an easy shoo-in for the double? For starters, he is the least conservative of most sprinters on the circuit these days. The double world champion over the 200m has got the verve, heart, and, more importantly, desire to take on new frontiers. At some point, he genuinely did believe he was the heir apparent to Bolt. And for a while, he matched the great Jamaican for panache with results on the track.
It fizzled for a while. But after last year’s tilt at the world record in the 200m (19.31), in which he became the third-fastest man in history behind Bolt (19.19) and Yohan Blake (19.26), Lyles seems to be genuinely back. Maybe a prod at the world record this year in the 200m might suffice again, but if he decides to take on the 100m too, can he match up to his countrymen who all finished on the podium in Oregon?
Lyles’ story from high school to winning the Youth Olympics 200m title in the 200m in 2014 put him on the right trajectory toward his senior career. Only once has he ever won the 100m at the US trials. It came in 2018 when he ran a 9.88. He followed it up in 2019 with 9.86s in Shanghai, the only time he has ever won the Diamond League over the distance. The question now isn’t a matter of if he’s capable, but how consistent can he be when he lines up in the blue-riband event, and can he show up when the nerves are at boiling point?
His start has always been a cause for worry. It is one he seemed to tidy up fairly during this indoor season. Like Bolt, whose beanpole-like nature guaranteed him to fall short in the drive phase of the 100m, Lyles has similar issues. However, the mere fact he was able to finish the indoor season with a new Personal Best of 6.51 over the 60m should give him reason to be optimistic.
Ultimately, it all boils down to belief. Lyles’ strength is his maximum velocity. Very few sprinters can match him on that. It’s a risk-reward thing, and no one knows better than Lyles. What matters the most is he has a chance at re-writing history. That’s the beauty of the sprint. Destinies and futures can be decided in a few seconds, and if you are willing to put your neck on the line, it can all be worth the risk.