Olympic Trials Men’s 200 — Noah Lyles Bounces Back

After a disappointing 100 finish, Noah Lyles showed he still has world-beating form in the 200. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

THE HALF-LAPPER as the two Q rounds played out emanated a déjà vu all over again kinda feel — as though, as it had for the 100, a year’s delay in staging might set up a marked departure from expected outcomes.

In the final, world champion Noah Lyles put a quick brake on that storyline as he won in 19.74, a Trials winning time exceeded only by Michael Johnson’s then-WR 19.66 in ’96.

In winning his second national title, Lyles, though he was the favorite, shut down peanut-gallery doubts as to his fitness after finishing just 7th in the 100. He turned back a trio of sub-20 PRs that were the best-ever OT-marks for places 2–4 from Kenny Bednarek (19.78) high-schooler-turned-pro Erriyon Knighton (19.84) and 100 team qualifier Fred Kerley (19.90). Their pitched battle was tremendously fun to watch.

That the 17-year-old Knighton was ready to play with the big boys became quickly evident as he led the heats with a PR 20.04 that rated as a record in 3 categories: American Junior (U20), World Youth (U18) and American Youth.

Things then heated up quickly in the semis, which yielded four sub-20s. In the first a 19.90 by 22-year-old Bednarek from veteran Isiah Young’s 19.99 and the 20.02 of Andrew Hudson — an 0.02 PR by the Olivet Nazarene alum. Kerley charged late for 4th in 20.08.

In the second, Lyles — with just one 200 final on his card in ’21 — rolled a swift first half of about 10.5 with brother Josephus out roughly as fast 4 lanes to his inside in 4. Here he departed from the typical Noah MO as Knighton stormed the stretch in lane 6 to grab the lead around 150m and hold it over Lyles for a 19.88–19.91 finish. NCAA champion/world leader Terrance Laird finished 3rd in 20.22 from Josephus Lyles’s 20.28 seasonal best.

Knighton’s time erased Usain Bolt’s WJR 19.93 from ’04, the year Knighton was born, and the young Floridian celebrated with a shout and a dashing disappearance into the trackside tunnel.

No one yet knew they’d need to wait a weather-delayed extra 5 hours for his next appearance on the oval. The wait was worth it.

While Lyles smoked the turn again in about 10.4, this time in lane 5, Bednarek (lane 7), Young (8) and Kyree King (3) were all right in it, Bednarek about a half-step ahead. This time the straight was vintage Lyles, if one can put “vintage” in a sentence about a 23-year-old. He owned the stretch.

Bednarek fought tooth & nail, yielding little, and Knighton rushed up into 3rd about 160m in, but it was Lyles who raised his right arm, sensing he had it won, 5m from the line to sail across about a foot in front, 19.74–19.78.

Although Knighton set more age-group records with his 19.84, making him even faster than Bolt as a Junior or Youth, the Jamaican great had been far from his mind for the final. “I just wanted to make top 3,” he said. “To make sure I did that I knew I was going to have to run fast because I had the world champ on the side of me and one of the other top Americans in the world in front of me.”

Lyles had raised his eyes and both arms heavenward for a moment before the start — “the spirit bomb call” is his term for the gesture — and he knelt in prayer after his win before bearhugging Knighton and Laird (6th) and then taking a moment on his back to soak in the victory.

“Olympian? Shoot!” Lyles declared as the virtual press conference began. “Gun goes off,” he said, talking through his run, “I was just thinking, ‘Slow first two steps.’ Came out, I knew that I was gonna have speed coming off that turn. I’ve been practicing that a lot, especially recently in the past 2–3 weeks. I came off with speed and I knew that all I had to do was keep running.

“Throughout the rounds I’ve been backing off a lot, especially right after I come off the turn ’cause I’ve been having a lot of speed. So this time it was just let it flow and keep it going. Coach [Lance Brauman] said, ‘Run to the 202,’ not 200m but 202m.”

Having set his cap for the Olympics since the eighth-grade and coming up just a place short as a senior in ’16, Lyles said, “Gosh, what a build-up it’s been with each year, grabbing the world lead and Diamond League wins, Diamond League championships, World Championships and then having the positive 2020. It’s probably been my hardest year. All those other years before this were easy. You know, even 2019 was rough but it was nothing compared to this.

“I don’t think anybody could prepare you for the lion that you have to slay at the Olympic Trials. It’s not World Championships, it’s not U.S. Championships, this is the hardest team to make and everybody here shows it.”


(June 27; wind +0.3)

1. Noah Lyles (adi) 19.74 (WL, AL);

2. Kenny Bednarek (Nik) 19.78 PR;

3. Erriyon Knighton (adi) 19.84 WJR, AJR, WYR, AYR (old records 19.88 Knighton in semis);

4. Fred Kerley (Nik) 19.90 PR;

5. Isiah Young (Nik) 20.03;

6. Terrance Laird (adi) 20.15;

7. Kyree King (Nik) 20.30;

8. Andrew Hudson (unat) 20.37.

(lanes: 2. Kerley; 3. King; 4. Hudson; 5. Lyles; 6. Knighton; 7. Bednarek; 8. Young; 9. Laird)

(reaction times: 0.136 Hudson; 0.152 Laird; 0.155 Young; 0.166 King; 0.167 Bednarek; 0.168 Kerley; 0.171 Lyles; 0.190 Knighton)

HEATS (June 25)

I(-0.2)–1. Knighton 20.04 AJR, WYR, AYR (old AJR 20.07 Lorenzo Daniel [MsSt] ’85; old WYR, AYR 20.11 Knighton ’21) (=2, =4 WJ);

2. Lyles 20.19; 3. Kerley 20.41; 4. Rodney Rowe (unat) 20.62; 5. Marcus Parker (Clem) 20.63; 6. Gavin Schurr (CoHS) 20.92.

II(-0.1)–1. Young 20.21; 2. Bednarek 20.22; 3. Josephus Lyles (adi) 20.39; 4. Elijah Morrow (AthTX) 20.60; 5. Brandon Carnes (unat) 20.80; 6. Christopher Belcher (Nik) 20.89.

III(0.8)–1. Laird 20.44; 2. Jordan Booker (Hous) 20.49 PR; 3. Jaron Flournoy (Nik) 20.69; 4. Micaiah Harris (Tx) 20.90; 5. Jaylen Slade (FlHS) 21.02; 6. Evan Miller (SC) 21.04.

IV(0.4)–1. Hudson 20.40; 2. Matthew Boling (Ga) 20.47; 3. LaShawn Merritt (Nik) 20.53; 4. King 20.63; 5. Daveon Collins (unat) 20.69;… dq—EJ Floréal (unat).

SEMIS (June 26)

I(0.9)–1. Bednarek 19.90; 2. Young 19.99; 3. Hudson 20.02 PR; 4. Kerley 20.08 PR; 5. King 20.23 PR; 6. Boling 20.27; 7. Merritt 20.41; 8. Rowe 20.46.

II(1.1)–1. Knighton 19.88 WJR, AJR, WYR, AYR (old WJR 19.93 Usain Bolt [Jam] ’04; old AJR, WYR, AYR 20.04 Knighton in heats);

2. Lyles 19.91; 3. Laird 20.22; 4. Lyles 20.28; 5. Morrow 20.51 =PR; 6. Parker 20.55; 7. Flournoy 20.59; 8. Booker 20.62.