Focus On The U.S. Men’s 200

No other Junior runner — not even Usain Bolt — has run the 200 faster than Erriyon Knighton. (JEFF COHEN)

AS THE WORLD CHAMPS summer approaches, with attendant battles to qualify for Team USA slotted for Eugene in June, we are polishing our lens, eyeing the disciplines where competition promises to sizzle.

Few events can match the men’s 200 for quality. With two Olympic medalists plus a precocious Tokyo 4th-placer in the mix, the metric furlong is about as hot a property as one can name.

The ’21 World Rankings saw five U.S. men rate, in the fleet-footed personages of Tokyo silver medalist Kenny Bednarek (No. 2), bronze medalist Noah Lyles (No. 3), 4th-placing teenager Erriyon Knighton (No. 4), Olympic 100 silver medalist Fred Kerley (No. 5) and NCAA 100 champ Terrance Laird (No. 9).

To find a year more loaded with ranking 200 Americans one must hark back to ’10. In that season U.S. sprinters earned 6 of the 10 spots, led by Walter Dix (No. 1), Wallace Spearmon (No. 2) and Tyson Gay (No. 4). To fully appreciate that performance, bear in mind that it took an enormously accomplished speedster to break up Uncle Sam’s leading phalanx. The No. 3 rating went to none other than Usain Bolt.

The ’21 yearly list, too, speaks to the 200 as an American fortress event at this point in history. Lyles led the compilation at 19.52, with Olympic gold medalist and No. 1 Ranker Andre De Grasse next with his 19.62 from Tokyo. Then among performers came Bednarek (19.68 in Tokyo), Kerley (19.76 at altitude in Nairobi), Laird (19.81 at the Texas Relays) and Knighton (19.84 in the Olympic Trials) before more non-U.S. names came into play.

All in all, elite half-lappers laid down a blizzard of wind-legal sub-20 times last year for a total of 38 dashes under the barrier. U.S. legal sub-20s, 28 of them, accounted for a colossal 73%-plus of the tally.

While there have been seasons in which the 200 takes something of a backseat to the glamorous 100, that’s not the projection for this year’s WC Trials even though reigning world champion Lyles has said he is likely to rely on his half-lap Wild Card and focus on the 100 in Eugene’s first sparkling championships of the summer.

In this issue you will find feature stories on Bednarek, Lyles and Kerley as they look ahead to the outdoor campaign. Herein you can read sidebars on Knighton and Laird.

What follows is a rundown in three categories of other dashers to keep an eye out for.

Are They 100 Specialists?

While no survey of U.S. sprinting can overlook Christian Coleman and Trayvon Bromell, their tighter linkages to the century versus the 200 are inescapable. There is always room to expand for 100 world champion Coleman and Olympic Trials winner in the straightaway dash Bromell.

Of the two, Coleman, 26, brings the more formidable half-lap résumé. For Tennessee he brought home the ’17 NCAA 200 crown along with his 100 title, and prior to that claimed NCAA Indoor 200 victories in ’16 and ’17. He has World Ranked twice, No. 5 in ’17 and No. 8 in ’19.

Any further Coleman ventures into the 200 may hinge on how quickly the USATF Indoor 60 champ’s return from missed-tests inaction in ’20 and ’21 brings him back to short dash sharpness. His appearance in the upcoming World Indoor Champs 60 should provide a clue or two.

Coleman’s lifetime best is 19.85 from ’17. In ’19 he tested himself internationally, running 19.97 to finish just 0.06 behind De Grasse in Ostrava. Some three weeks later in Székesfehérvár he raced around the turn to a 19.91 win over Ramil Guliyev, silver medalist at the ’17 Worlds. Later the same month he sprinted 20.02 for 2nd at the USATF Champs as Lyles’ 19.78 claimed the title.

When Coleman sat for the May 2019 T&FN Interview, he said, “I’ve been working on everything, man. I just want to be a full, complete all-around sprinter, you know? A 60, 100, 200 guy, so that’s what I’ve been working on and I’m excited to see my hard work pay off.”

Bromell, so far, may strike you as a dyed-in-the-wool 100 man. He rushed to WC bronze in the century in ’15, and also took home the ’16 World Indoor 60 gold.

Never say, though, that turns are foreign territory for the 26-year-old Floridian. As a Baylor soph in ’15, Bromell took the NCAA Indoor title in 20.19. Outdoors that spring he turned times of 20.03 (his PR) and 19.86w.

Last May, Bromell, in his third and final 200 of ’21, dashed 20.20 in a race Knighton won with a 20.11 clocking.

While Bromell’s ’22 aspirations are unknown, as the June 2021 T&FN Interview subject he answered the question this way: “We definitely want to start implementing the 200 into my career. But this year we’re just focused on the 100.”

Bright Lights With Other Plans

Here we are speaking of the USC alumni duo, Michael Norman and Rai Benjamin.

They own sparkling PRs. Norman’s is 19.70 from a ’19 Rome DL win by 0.02 over Lyles. Benjamin’s 19.99 best dates from his, and Norman’s, DL circuit debut in Paris in ’18.

Norman, the Tokyo 400’s 5th-placer, has a pair of 200 Rankings on his CV, No. 4 in ’18, No. 6 in ’19. History’s No. 2 all-time 400 hurdler and Tokyo silver medalist Benjamin earned a No. 8 spot in the 200 in ’18, and also U.S.-rated No. 10 last year.

Friends and training partners, both have soft spots for the 200. In 2020 Benjamin, referencing the postponed Olympic Trials, told T&FN, “I wanted to do a 200/400H double. That just sounds crazy because those events are usually back to back. But if their schedule allowed it — I would have lobbied for it but my coaches they’ll be like, ‘You’re crazy, you’re not doing that.’”

We asked coach Quincy Watts if either may attempt the 200 at the WC Trials. USC’s program director replied quickly and in brief: “Neither Michael nor Rai have plans to run the 200 at Nationals or Worlds.”

Terrance Laird brings AN NCAA 100 champ’s speed to the 200. (BRYAN WAYNE)

Other ’21 U.S.-Rankers

No. 6 — Isiah Young, 32, 19.86 (’13). Veteran’s vet who dashed to 5th at the ’21 OT after a 19.99 in his semi.

No. 7 — Josephus Lyles, 23, 20.03 (’21). Noah’s year-younger brother raced nearly to the threshold of the 19s placing 3rd at last year’s Pre Classic. Brings 45.09 full-lap game to his efforts.

No. 8 — Kyree King, 27, 20.15 (’21). At the OT last summer he cut 0.04 from a 4-year-old PR in his semi (20.23) and placed 7th in the final. Lowered his best by another 0.08 last August.

No. 9 — Andrew Hudson, 25. A Texas Tech alum, he placed 7th at the ’19 NCAA as a Red Raider senior. Cut 0.02 from his PR in his ’21 OT semi and placed 8th in the final.

Collegians To Keep In Mind

Our January issue compilation of leading NCAA eligibles makes for handy source material. Five American collegians have bettered 20.25: Georgia soph Matthew Boling (20.06, ’21 NCAA 5th), Kentucky soph Lance Lang (20.08), Texas senior Micaiah Harris (20.09, ’21 NCAA 4th), North Carolina A&T soph Javonte Harding (20.21, ’21 NCAA 9th), Florida State junior JoVaughn Martin (20.22, ’21 NCAA 7th) and Texas Tech junior Courtney Lindsey (20.24).

At presstime, Boling (20.27), Lang (20.32) and Harding 20.33) were fastest on the ’22 indoor list, though the lap of a 200 oval may almost be regarded as an event all its own. ◻︎

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