“The man ran incredible times... I'm going to break that, and then I'm going to get even bigger than him."
Noah Lyles knows tonight could be the moment he launches himself into superstardom. The current fastest man in the world over 200m will race in the men’s final at 8.40pm (BST) tonight with not just a gold medal in his sights, but Usain Bolt’s world record. Confidence is certainly something the 22-year-old American isn’t lacking but he can back up his words with his performances on the track.
He was the fastest man in qualifying at the World Championships which is perhaps no surprise as he is also the fastest man in the world this year, running the eighth-fastest time in history, clocking 19.50 in July. In Doha tonight, Lyles will take to the track as he races against the clock with that world record in his sights. After withdrawing from the 100m to focus on the 200m, the American knows that he may never get a better chance to beat Bolt.
"I might not get another chance like this again because I plan to be doubling after this,” he told the BBC.
"The 100m is just one of those races where I'm not so strong in it that I know I'm going to come away with a win."
But is it possible to beat Bolt’s record, that was set over a decade ago? Of course, records are there to be broken but the remarkable thing about Bolt’s Berlin record is that it wasn’t the perfect race for the Jamaican. He had already set a world record in the 100m and complained of tiredness before the race, something that showed as he approached the finish.
Bolt was such a freak of nature that despite his tiredness, lack of form towards the end of the race and his rocking from side to side, he still set a record that has lasted for a decade. The remarkable thing is that he certainly could have run faster in his career, but as he doubled up at every event, tiredness played a big factor in his pursuit of medals and world records.
This is where Lyles can take advantage. If we look at the split times between Bolt world record and Lyles’ 19.50 we can see where the American needs to make up the time, and where he has the upper hand. Bolt’s start, usually one of the weakest parts of his race was remarkable. For an athlete as tall as the Jamaican, it is sometimes difficult for him to generate the power needed to get out of the blocks but Bolt ran the first 50m in just 5.60 seconds.
For comparison, Lyles, who is known for his speedy starts and smooth transition, ran 5.80 for the first 50m. At the 100m mark, as the athletes came onto the home straight, Lyles had run a 10.2 over the opening half of the race, trailing behind Bolt at 9.92.
In the final 100m, you would think Bolt would pull away further given his height and massive stride length but that wasn’t the case, which is a sign of encouragement for the young American. By 150m, Bolt had clocked 14.44 compared to Lyles’ 14.8 but in the final 50m, the American reeled him in slightly.
Lyles strength lies in his almost-perfect technique and his speed endurance, something that can be seen as other sprinters fatigue towards the end of the race. He ran the second 100m during his personal best in just 9.3 seconds, which is remarkably close to Bolt’s second 100m, which took 9.27 secs.
However, Michael Johnson still holds the record for the fastest second half of a 200m race, clocking 9.20 when he ran 19.32 in Atlanta. It is perhaps Johnson’s smooth running style and sprinting efficiency that Lyles can replicate in his hunt for glory.
Given that Lyles can compete over the second 100m, this makes the start the all-important part of the race. If, and it is a big if, the American can fly out of the blocks and round the bend he has every chance of going close to the record tonight.
Our gut feeling is that he will win gold at a canter, but Bolt’s world record will be safe, until Tokyo at least.