Noah Lyles Becomes the Fastest Man in the World by Winning 2023 World 100m Title

BUDAPEST, Hungary – Every runner at the World Athletics Championships is fast. Only one, the winner of the men’s 100 meters, gets to call themselves the fastest man in the world. Those are the rules of the game in track & field, and Noah Lyles knows them well.

Lyles has won the last two world titles at 200 meters. Lyles is fast. Very fast. Until tonight, he was never the fastest.

“To be able to say that with the utmost confidence, I’ve gotta win the 100,” Lyles said.

Now, he can say it: Noah Lyles is the fastest man in the world, a claim he forged into fact by running a personal best of 9.83 to win the 100 meters on night 2 of the 2023 Worlds at the brand-new National Athletics Centre, tucked into the right bank of the Danube River.

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For much of 2023, Lyles was decidedly not the fastest. In his second 100 of the year in April, he lost to a high schooler (albeit the quickest high schooler ever who was subsequently suspended for testing positive for a banned substance). At the US championships in July, Lyles finished only 3rd after contracting COVID the week before, losing to unheralded Cravont Charleston. Before tonight, 20 men had run faster at 100 in the year 2023 than Noah Lyles.

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But none of those meets award World Championship medals, and when it mattered most, Lyles was simply brilliant. It began in the semifinals, where Lyles ran 9.87 – his fastest time in more than four years – to win his section. In the final, he was even better. As expected, Lyles lost ground at the start to Christian Coleman, the 60-meter world record holder and one of the greatest accelerators the sport has ever seen. But there was little separation from Lyles to the rest of the field. Once Lyles reached top speed, no one could match him.

Between his 9.87 in the semis and 9.83 in the final, there was no doubt who was the fastest on this night – Lyles ran faster twice than any other man ran once. Botswana’s Letsile Tebogo, Great Britain’s Zharnel Hughes, and Jamaica’s Oblique Seville all clocked 9.88 in the final, with the medals decided by thousandths – 9.873 and silver for Tebogo, 9.874 and bronze for Hughes, and 9.877 and nothing for Seville, his second consecutive 4th-place finish at Worlds.

Tebogo, winner of the last two world U20 titles, delivered on his promise as one of the sport’s biggest talents by becoming, at 20 years and 74 days, the youngest men’s 100 medalist since Trayvon Bromell in 2015. It was a breakthrough performance not just for himself and his country, but his continent – Tebogo’s medal was the first at Worlds by an African athlete in the men’s 100 (Namibia’s Frankie Fredericks won two Olympic 100 medals for Namibia in the 1990s). Meanwhile Hughes, a former phenom – he was 5th in the 200 in 2015 at age 20 – earned a long-awaited first senior medal with bronze, Great Britain’s first in this event since Darren Campbell’s bronze 20 years ago.

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Lyles, of course, wants more. No man has won the 100 and 200 at the same global championships since Usain Bolt at the 2016 Olympics, and Lyles will be heavily favored to do just that on Friday night. Lyles has emerged as a worthy successor to Bolt as king of the 200 but, six years since the big man’s retirement, it is remarkable just how chaotic the men’s 100 meters has become.

The last three World Championships have produced nine separate medalists, and none of the three medalists from last year’s US 100m sweep in Eugene could even make the final in Budapest – Trayvon Bromell and Marvin Bracy-Williams, felled by injuries, weren’t even on the US team, while reigning champion Fred Kerley, after dominating early in the year, never looked himself in Budapest and was eliminated after running 10.02 for third in his semi.

Kerley’s fate has become the rule, rather than the exception, for reigning champions. 2019 world champ Christian Coleman did not make it to the 2021 Olympics after an 18-month ban for whereabouts failures. Coleman, who faded after his quick start and was only 6th tonight in 9.92, has not looked the same since returning from suspension. Italy’s Marcell Jacobs succeeded Coleman as the world’s fastest man by winning the Olympic title in Tokyo but has struggled to stay healthy since and withdrew from last year’s Worlds after the first round. He too went home in the semis tonight.

Will Lyles continue the trend next year or can he become the first man since Bolt to unify the world and Olympic titles? That will be a hot topic of discussion over the next 12 months as the countdown to Paris begins. But the fact that we are even in a position to debate it is a testament to Lyles’ commitment to mastering an event that some observers felt he never should have been running in the first place.

“Everybody in the world told me he needs to be a 200/400 guy”

When Lance Brauman began coaching Lyles in 2016, he heard from a lot of people. Lyles had just run a high school record of 20.09 for 200 meters to finish 4th at the US Olympic Trials, and was viewed as a generational talent, potentially in two events.

“Everybody in the world told me he needs to be a 200/400 guy,” Brauman said. 

The logic was not hard to follow. Lyles’ father, Kevin, ran 45.01 and made it to the World Championships in the relay in the 4×400 in 1995. His mother, Keisha Caine Bishop, was an NCAA champion in the 4×400 at Seton Hall University. Lyles was no small talent at 100 meters – he had just won the world junior title – but his start was, by his own admission, horrible. And starts are not easy to improve in the 100 meters. Great athletes can go their entire career without ever figuring it out.

But Lyles told Brauman he wanted to run the 100. And when an athlete tells Brauman what he wants to do, Brauman listens.

First, Lyles had to fix his start, and to do that, he had to get strong. The more force you can put into the track, the more you can accelerate. Though Lyles experienced some success in the 100 during the early years of his career – a US title in 2018, a 9.86 in Shanghai in 2019 – he said it was not until 2021 that he began to feel the effects of all those hours in the weight room start to pay off on the track.

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2021 is the year Lyles first pursued the double, but he fell well short, finishing just 7th at the US Olympic Trials in the 100 before earning 200 bronze at the Tokyo Olympics. COVID had limited that year’s indoor schedule, but by 2022, things were back to normal, and Lyles embarked on a serious indoor season.

The indoor 60 lacks the prestige and attention of the outdoor 100, but Brauman had told Lyles all along that if he could just get into position to challenge the leaders at the 60-meter mark of the 100, Lyles’ top-end speed would take care of the rest. How do you get into better position at 60 meters? You run a lot of 60-meter races. Lyles ran 12 over the last two years.

He lowered his 60m pb from 6.57 to 6.55 in 2022, an encouraging sign for his 100 hopes, but bailed on pursuing the 100/200 double outdoors once Erriyon Knighton dropped a 19.49 in April.

“I did not want to lose to Erriyon, point simple,” Lyles said.

Lyles didn’t, running an American record of 19.31 in the 200 at Worlds.

By 2023, Lyles felt the time was finally right to go all-in for the double, and his indoor season reflected that, with a 6.51 pb and win over former world indoor 60 champion Trayvon Bromell in Boston in February.

“Last year made this the right year,” Lyles said. “After having such a stronghold on the 200, it really freed me up to be like okay, no matter where I am this season, I know I can always come back to the 200 and it’s going to be fast.

Still, Lyles was no pre-race favorite; he entered Budapest as one of half a dozen guys with a legitimate shot at the title. Even a great year can be derailed with one poor start, and Lyles’ 2023 campaign, with three defeats in five pre-Worlds 100m races, was far from perfect.

But the greatest are judged by what they do in the major championships, and Lyles raised his game in the biggest moment. His start and acceleration phases needed to be good. Brauman told LetsRun he thought they were great – the best he’s seen from Lyles in the 100 “by far.”

That was enough to put him in contact at 60 meters. And contact was all Lyles needed.

Lyles is not done in Budapest, not by a long shot. Hughes, Tebogo, and Knighton await in the 200, and the United States is seeking redemption in the 4×100 after an upset defeat to Canada last year. 

“That is the start of a dynasty,” Lyles said of a potential triple.

Of course, Lyles only has partial control over that relay squad’s fate. But as for his double, the one that would put him in the company of sprint greats Bolt, Carl Lewis, and Maurice Greene? The hardest part is behind him. Noah Lyles is no longer merely fast. He is the fastest man in the world.

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