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Noah Lyles’ U.S. track and field Olympic trials hadn’t transpired as anticipated leading up to Sunday evening.
Lyles failed to qualify for the Olympics in the men’s 100 meters after finishing seventh with a pedestrian time of 10.05. Then Lyles didn’t finish a race first through the qualifying rounds of the men’s 200 meters.
However, the 2019 world 200-meter champion saved his best performance for last.
Lyles made sure he was first to the finish line in the final race of the U.S. track and field Olympic trials. Lyles ran a world-leading 19.74 to win the men’s 200 meters. Kenny Bednarek ran a season-best 19.78 to place second and 17-year-old Erriyon Knighton ran a personal-best 19.84 to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
“I don’t think anybody can prepare you for the lion you have to slay at the Olympic trials,” Lyles said after qualifying for Tokyo. “This is the hardest team to make and everybody here shows it.”
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) June 28, 2021
Lyles admitted this season has been the hardest of his career due to the one-year postponement of the Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic, and having to go through the arduous physical and mental battle of getting back to peak form again.
“I think to signify the importance of today, you have to go through the hardships of the year,” Lyles said. “Really, going through the hard parts is what makes this moment so great.”
The moment was gratifying for the U.S. sprinter. He has run the four fastest 200-meter times in the world since 2016, but admittedly this season’s been a struggle for him to get back into top form. On Sunday, though, vintage Lyles was on display at Hayward Field.
“It was fun again. It was nice, it was real nice,” Lyles said. “To see a little bit of that old Noah but see a lot of new Noah.”
Lyles’ world-leading time instantly inserted him as the Olympic favorite in the men’s 200 meters in Tokyo. An American male hasn’t won gold in the 200 at the Olympics since Shawn Crawford in 2004. Lyles, who won the men’s 200 at the 2019 world championships in Doha, has a chance to get Team USA back at the top of podium at his very first Olympics.
“Gosh it sounds nice,” Lyles said on making his first Olympics. “I went after it in 2016 and came up short and ever since then the mindset of becoming an Olympian has been on my mind.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Olympics 2021: Noah Lyles punches ticket for Tokyo in 200 meters