Noah Lyles and Shericka Jackson (© Getty Images)
When the men’s 200m gets under way at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23, world leader and defending champion Noah Lyles will be gunning for more than the title. In the build up to the championships, the US sprinter made history at the London Diamond League in July by breaking Usain Bolt’s record for the most wind-legal sub-20 races, which was pegged at 34. In Budapest, the 26-year-old will aim to take one more record from the Jamaican: the world record.
The 200m bronze medallist from the Tokyo Olympics has never hidden his desire to claim the world record of 19.19 set by Bolt at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. Lyles’ conviction is further strengthened by his position as the third fastest man in history after posting 19.31 to win gold in Oregon last year, breaking Michael Johnson’s US record in the process. Only Bolt and his compatriot Yohan Blake (19.26) are higher on the all-time list.
The 2016 world U20 100m gold medallist posted an image on one of his social media accounts, revealing his intent to run 9.65 in the 100m and 19.10 in the 200m, indicating that he’s also eyeing a medal in the 100m. If Lyles retains his title from Oregon, he will become the second man, after Bolt, to claim three or more successive gold medals in the 200m at the World Championships.
However, Lyles is not the only one looking to produce a slice of history in Budapest. Botswana’s new poster boy and the world U20 100m champion Letsile Tebogo could deny a US medal sweep after an incredible run in London where he followed hard after Lyles who set a world lead of 19.47. The 20-year-old was rewarded with 19.50, smashing Frankie Fredericks’ 26-year-old African record of 19.68 set at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics. Ironically, Fredericks is the only African man in World Championships history with medals in the 200m, having claimed four of such – one gold and three silvers.
Letsile Tebogo at the World Athletics U20 Championships Cali 22 (© Marta Gorczynska)
With Nigeria’s Udodi Onwuzurike, the NCAA champion and fifth fastest man over the event this season, ruled out of the championships due to a hamstring injury, Tebogo is Africa’s brightest chance for a medal in this event. Also bearing the continent’s hopes is Ghana’s James Dadzie, who shot up to sixth place on the global standings with a national record of 19.79 set at the Corky/Crofoot Shootout in Texas, becoming the first Ghanaian to break the 20-second mark.
Erriyon Knighton has demonstrated that he has indeed come of age, having garnered significant experience at senior level, with a fourth-place finish at the Tokyo Olympics and a bronze in Oregon last year as part of a US medal sweep. The 19-year-old will be coming with renewed confidence after winning the US Championships in 19.72.
In that race, he finished ahead of Kenny Bednarek, who clocked a season’s best of 19.82. With silver medals from both the Tokyo Olympics and last year’s World Championships in Oregon, Bednarek, who is beginning to get impatient with the ‘almost’ tag, will aspire to upgrade to gold and will be hoping for third time lucky as he gets set to take to the track at his third World Championships.
In spite of a tremendously busy season which commenced in February, NCAA 100m champion and silver medallist in the 200m, Courtney Lindsey, upset the apple cart at the US Trials to snatch third place with his time of 19.85, 0.01 better than his previous PB, to deny the likes of Fred Kerley and Christian Coleman spots in the 200m in Budapest.
Another strong contender for a podium place, who has demonstrated his ability to rise to the occasion though is yet to claim an individual global medal, is Great Britain’s Zharnel Hughes. The world leader over the 100m (9.83) heads to Budapest as the fourth fastest man in the 200m after securing third place in London with the first sub-20 of his career, a national record of 19.73.
From not making the US World Championships team last year to winning the national trials this year with a personal best and the fastest time in the world, Olympic bronze medallist Gabby Thomas has come full circle.
The 26-year-old ran 21.60, which propelled her to fourth on the world all-time list, just behind world record-holder Florence Griffith-Joyner, and the Jamaican duo of Shericka Jackson and Elaine Thompson-Herah. Now she will aim to build on that in Budapest at her first World Championships.
Gabby Thomas in Tokyo (© Getty Images)
Interestingly, the defending world champion in the event and second fastest woman of all-time – Jackson – clocked her fastest time this season (21.71) on the same day that Thomas ran 21.60, while racing to her second consecutive and third overall Jamaican title in the 200m. Jackson already has eight World Championships medals to her name and will put up a spirited defence in Budapest. Thomas and Jackson had an interesting faceoff at the Monaco Diamond League and it was the Jamaican that gained the upper hand, taking the win in 21.86 as Thomas faded to seventh.
The women’s 200m is certainly one of the most anticipated races of the forthcoming World Championships and may be quite unpredictable, seeing as five of the eight finalists from Oregon are not going to feature in the event this time around. One of the new faces that has already thrown down the gauntlet is St Lucia’s Julien Alfred, who has been unstoppable in 2023.
Alfred became the first woman in NCAA history to break the seven-second barrier in the 60m and is the all-time second fastest indoor sprinter over both the 60m and 200m with her times of 6.94 and 22.01, respectively. The five-time NCAA champion has won all but one of her 200m races outdoors, including racing to a spectacular 21.73 (2.5m/s) to win the NCAA Championships. She also clocked a national record 21.91 at the Tom Jones Memorial Invitational, putting her in third place on the global standings this season.
Closely following her is Sha’Carri Richardson, who has been spectacular this year and in dominant form. The US sprinter bounced back into global reckoning this year and after setting PBs of 10.71 for 100m and 21.94 for 200m, with the latter being set at the US Championships where she finished second to Thomas after claiming her first national title in the 100m, the former NCAA champion will be aiming to stamp her authority at her first World Championships in both sprints.
Fellow US athlete Kayla White has shown some promise this season, digging deep to produce a PB of 22.01, which she clocked for third place at the US Championships. The sprinter has had an active season, competing in a series of meetings including Diamond League events in Rabat, Paris and Monaco. Although her only victory over the 200m was at the Botswana Golden Grand Prix where she posted 22.38, White will fancy her chances at her maiden appearance at the World Championships.
Also adding some colour to the women’s 200m line up is the 2019 gold medallist in the event and bronze medallist in Oregon, Dina Asher-Smith, who will be banking on her wealth of experience to pull through, having not competed in many 200m races this season. She is tied with her Great Britain teammate Daryll Neita at 12th position with a season’s best of 22.23.
Yemi Olus-Galadima for World Athletics