THE FAST LANE
Formidable Team USA aim at sprint glory at World Athletics Championships in Hungary
Team USA blew other nations out of the water when they hosted the World Athletics Championships in 2022. A year later, in Hungary, they are on the prowl for another emphatic display in the global showpiece.
During the previous edition of the World Athletics Championships, which took place in the state of Oregon in the US, the American men completed a clean sweep of the podium in the prestigious 100m and 200m sprints.
In this latest instalment of the second-greatest athletics showdown — after the Olympic Games — taking place in Hungary, it will not be so easy for the Americans to emulate their double hat-trick. New fast guns such as Britain’s Zharnel Hughes and Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala have emerged to show their quality.
Nevertheless, the gold medallists in both events in Oregon last year will head to Budapest confident that they can repeat the feat. Americans Fred Kerley and Noah Lyles, who are the reigning 100m and 200m champions, respectively, are favourites to claim gold.
Kerley is bidding to become the first man since the legendary Usain Bolt to claim back-t0-back 100m gold medals at the World Athletics Championships. The Jamaican phenomenon did it in 2013 and 2015 at the biennial showpiece.
“He is the golden standard for track and field. We all try to achieve all he achieved in his lifetime,” Kerley told ABC Radio when speaking about Bolt and the prospects of emulating the history-making sprinter.
Kerley has competed in just five 100m races this season. In one, he registered a season-best time of 9.88 seconds. He also won gold in the Diamond League during the Rabat and Florence legs. Last month though, he was narrowly beaten by South Africa’s Akani Simbine.
Simbine will be one of the challengers for Kerley’s crown, as will his fellow African Omanyala. Both sprinters have shown great form this season.
In the mix with the 100m specialists will be Kerley’s compatriot and the reigning 200m world champion, Lyles. He is on the prowl for the sprint double in Budapest.
The 26-year-old is also chasing a milestone that belongs to Bolt — the 200m world record. It may prove to be elusive, as Bolt ran a mind-boggling 19.19 seconds in the 2009 edition of the World Championships in Berlin.
Lyles’ current personal best is 19.31, which he set at the World Championships in 2022. Bolt’s countryman Yohan Blake (19.26) is the only other man to run the race faster than the American sprinter. Lyles firmly believes in his ability to overtake the times of both Jamaicans in one sprint.
“They say if [people] don’t know your dreams, then they can’t shoot them down. But I have always been more of a guy who loves to hear the screams from the haters. It’s got a nice ring to it,” Lyles said.
The youngest men’s 200m world champion in history ran his third-fastest time just last month. He clocked an impressive 19.47 seconds to win the London leg of the Diamond League meet.
He faces stiff competition from British sensation Hughes and Botswana’s Letsile Tebogo.
America’s sprint queen
The USA’s sprint medal hopes will also lean on Sha’Carri Richardson. The 23-year-old is competing in her first World Championships. She missed out on an Olympics debut in 2021 after testing positive for cannabis.
This year Richardson has won eight of nine races in her favoured 100m, including success in Doha and Silesia. She has reached an impressive level of consistency, registering four of the fastest seven times in 2023, all 10.76 or quicker.
However, if she is to claim her first major gold medal, she will have to fend off strong challenges from the sprint queen, Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.
Fraser-Pryce heads into the global athletics spectacle as the defending champion, on top of being the most decorated sprinter in World Championships history. She is in hot pursuit of a sixth 100m individual title.
Though she is fresh off a rare injury, Fraser-Pryce has only once failed to cross the line first in a World Championships 100m final over the past 14 years, when she finished fourth in 2011.
“It’s a new situation for me to come back from injury and start my season so late,” the Jamaican confessed after contesting her first 100m race of the year in Lucerne on 20 July, and winning.
She faces tough competition for gold from Richardson and compatriot Shericka Jackson, while Ivorian Marie-Josée Ta Lou cannot be discounted.
On home soil last year, the USA notched up a haul of 33 medals, 23 more than second-placed Ethiopia. In Budapest, they will aim to top the medals table once more.
However, they will be without one of their best hopes for a medal, 400m hurdles champion and record-holder Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone. The Olympic champion has pulled out of the championships because of a knee injury. DM
The World Athletics Championships take place from Saturday, 19 August 2023, to Sunday, 27 August.