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Lyles Triumphs in 200-Meter Final, Keeps Olympic Sprint Double Hope Alive
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By Associated Press
Published 3 weeks ago on
July 1, 2024

Noah Lyles celebrates after winning the men's 200-meter final during the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Team Trials Saturday, June 29, 2024, in Eugene, Ore. (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

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EUGENE — In the wee hours the night before his 200-meter final, Noah Lyles sent a shout-out on social media to the sprinters in Jamaica, egging them on to help make the upcoming Paris Olympics great.

Then, the final rolled around, and all Lyles had to do was look two lanes to his right to see he had his hands full Saturday night right here in the U.S.

Lyles had to bust it through the finish line to overtake, then beat, Kenny Bednarek at U.S. track trials, finishing in 19.53 seconds, the best time of the year, but a scant .06 clear of second place.

“I knew he was definitely working on something,” Lyles said. “So I came off the turn and said ‘OK, I’m fine. I’ve been here many times before. We’re going to get to the last 80. He’s going to fall, and I’m going to get faster.'”

It was more like the last 20 before there was any inkling that this race was wrapped up.

Still, the messages were the same: Lyles, who has only lost once at this distance at a major meet, knows how to win at his best distance, where he’s a three-time world champion, from ahead and from behind; and Bednarek, who also finished second to Lyles in the 100, is going to make him earn it.

“I’m on his case right there,” Bednarek said. “And I showed the world I’ve got a lot more in me and I’ve got more in the tank.”

Breaking the Trials Record

Lyles’ 19.53 broke an Olympic trials record of 19.66 held by Michael Johnson since 1996. Erriyon Knighton finished third in 19.77, giving the U.S. three of this year’s eight sub-19.8 runs in a single race.

“It’s going to be great regardless but USA is USA,” Lyles said when asked about the Jamaican shout-out. “We don’t take anything lightly. We don’t give anything. You’ve got to take it from us.”

Lyles’ shout-out to Jamaica came a day after a relative unknown, Kishane Thompson, ran a world-leading 9.77 to win the 100-meter nationals. Thompson did not run in Saturday’s 200 prelims in Kingston.

The U.S. has a long history of baton mishaps in the 4×100 relay, though a team headlined by Lyles won easily last year at worlds.

Sha’Carri’s Stumble

Lyles’ victory came about 90 minutes after this meet’s other big name, Sha’Carri Richardson, slowed down in the homestretch of the women’s 200 and finished fourth, depriving her a chance to race in both sprints. Gabby Thomas won that title.

Then, as if to underscore the point that there are no sure things in track, Lyles took to the track and found the guy they call “Kung Fu Kenny” — in reference to the Asian-themed bandanas Bednarek wears — more than hanging in there once they hit the curve.

Instead of trying for an American or world record, as he suggested the night before that he might, Lyles simply had to hold off Bednarek, who said he tightened up over the last few steps and couldn’t push hard to the finish.

All the late-race drama felt like filler to Lyles’ coach, Lance Brauman, who only had one goal for his sprinter over these two weekends in Eugene, which was to get him qualified for both sprints by finishing in the top three.

“As soon as I saw those two had cleared the rest of the field, I was like ‘Whatever happens here happens here,’” he said. “It’s a qualifying meet. Sure. winning here keeps his streak of winning going, but at the same time, it’s not the end-all, be-all. You’ve got to be on the team.”

Tara Davis-Woodhall’s Nail-Biting Win

America’s top long jumper certainly knows how to put on a show. Down to her last try after two scratches, Tara Davis-Woodhall finally took off from behind the board and jumped 6.64 meters (21 feet, 9 1/2 inches) to avoid being eliminated.

Awarded three more tries, she jumped 7 meters (22-11 3/4) on the second of those to vault from fifth to first place.

Davis-Woodhall remains undefeated this season, but this one was a nail-biter.

“It was honestly one of the scariest moments of my career,” said the 25-year-old world indoor champ, who paraded around Hayward Field in her trademark cowboy hat after the win. “But I did not let that get to my head. I had to stay focused and present. And I allowed myself to embrace it, and whatever happens, happens after that.”

Weini Kelati’s New Life

Weini Kelati won the 10,000 meters in Eugene, Oregon, on Saturday night, 10 years after seeking asylum in the United States. Kelati traveled to Oregon as a teenager for the world junior championships and, without telling her friends or family, missed her flight back home to Eritrea to begin a new life.

Taken in by a relative, Kelati went to high school in Virginia and competed at the University of New Mexico, where she became a multi-time All-American.

Now, the 27-year-old has earned a trip to the Paris Olympics. Kelati held off Parker Valby of the University of Florida by less than a half second. Karissa Schweizer, who made the team for the Tokyo Games in 2021, was third.

“I get pretty emotional every time I come here,” Kelati said. “It means a lot. I’ve been telling them one day I’m going to go to the Olympics.”

Chase Jackson’s New Title: Olympian

Already a two-time world champion, Chase Jackson now has a new title: Olympian.

Jackson threw a season-best 20.10 meters to overtake Raven Saunders, the mask-wearing Olympic silver medalist, in the shot put final. Also making the team was Jaida Ross, who received quite a round of applause. She’s from the University of Oregon.

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