It’s a tired cliche to compare every champion sprinter to world record holder Usain Bolt, but tonight in Zurich for the first of two consecutive days of IAAF Diamond League finals, Noah Lyles proved worthy of comparison. The brash, show-stopping, 21-year-old American successfully defended his Diamond League title in the 200m for the second year in a row in 19.67, one-hundredth of a second off Bolt’s meeting record.
The time marks Lyles’ fourth race under 19.7 seconds this season. Only Bolt has run that fast, that many times in a single season.
American record holder Michael Johnson only broke 19.7 twice in his storied career, though of course his personal best is much faster: 19.32.
Lyles, who trains in Florida with Lance Brauman and is sponsored by Adidas, is a fan favorite for his post-race antics—after defeating reigning world champion Ramil Guliyev in Monaco this year, he celebrated with a backflip. Today, he imitated a Dragon Ball Z character going “super saiyan” at the start and did a victory dance with the IAAF mascot.
.@lylesnoah. Remember the name.
For the second year in a row, the American sprinting phenom is the IAAF Diamond League 200M champion. pic.twitter.com/ShKJP6PCjZ
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) August 30, 2018
Fellow Americans to secure titles on Thursday in Zurich included Fred Kerley, who won the men’s 400m with a time of 44.80. The women’s 400m hurdles saw a U.S. sweep by Dalilah Muhammad, the reigning Olympic champion, and Shamier Little, who ran 53.88 and 54.21, respectively.
Ajee’ Wilson took second place in the women’s 800m final behind Caster Semenya of South Africa, 1:55.27 to 1:57.86. Thursday’s race extended Semenya’s win streak in the event to nearly three consecutive years.
Next year could be different, though, as the IAAF is scheduled to implement a rule limiting the amount of testosterone in female middle-distance runners’ bodies, which would significantly impact Semenya. She is challenging the new rule in the Court for Arbitration of Sport.
One of the most exciting races of the evening was the men’s steeplechase, in which Evan Jager hoped to become the first American to win a Diamond League final in the event and to lower his national record under eight minutes.
Jager did not succeed on either front, as he took third behind Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya and Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco in an identical 1-2-3 placement as the 2017 IAAF World Championships final. Jager went for the lead on the bell lap but did not have the leg speed to match his foes, who distanced the American by three seconds and battled to a photo finish of 8:10.15 to 8:10.19.
The 23-year-old Kipruto’s win was all the more astounding given his left spike fell off less than two minutes into the race.
— Michel Boeting (@one4onesports) August 30, 2018
Sandi Morris took runner-up honors in the women’s pole vault to reigning world and Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi of Greece, but she’ll always remember this weekend for a reason other than sport. Her boyfriend, Bermudian long jumper Tyrone Smith, surprised her with a post-competition proposal.
Day two of the IAAF Diamond League finals is tomorrow in Brussels, where U.S. highlights include reigning world champion Emma Coburn and American record holder Courtney Frerichs in the steeplechase, Jenny Simpson and Shelby Houlihan in the 1500m, Paul Chelimo in the 5K, Christian Coleman in the men’s 100m, Clayton Murphy in the 800m, world record holder Keni Harrison in the 100m hurdles.
Five American women will also line up in the 400m final and the women’s 200m, the last event of the series, will see Harvard undergraduate Gabby Thomas take on U.S. champion Jenna Prandini, world champion Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands and Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas.