Noah Lyles is really fast — like, he credibly could break Usain Bolt’s world records at some point. The 22-year-old Lyles is the fourth fastest 200-meter sprinter in history, and he won the world championship last year. No one younger has ever run faster than the 19.50 Lyles ran last summer, not even Bolt.
But when Lyles ran 18.90 for 200 meters on Thursday, it was too good to be true. Lyles was competing at the Inspiration Games, a pandemic-reconfigured version of the Weltklasse Zurich track meet. Athletes lined up on tracks across the world with synced timing systems, and were shown on tape-delayed, synced-up broadcast feeds that made it very, very hard to tell who was winning any given race. It was in that setting that Lyles ran 18.90 all by himself, into a headwind, in Florida on Thursday. Bolt’s world record is 19.19 seconds.
To their credit, the announcers immediately knew something smelled wrong. “That cannot be right! That cannot be right!” shouted Steve Cram, who himself set several world records in the 1980s.
Five minutes later, the broadcast got to the bottom of it: Lyles lined up in the wrong place and only ran 185 meters. How could such a mistake even be possible? The likeliest possibility was suggested by the French coach and analyst PJ Vazel, who pointed out that the hurdle marking in the lane Lyles used is 185 meters from the finish.
The time adjusted for 200 meters would be 20.4 seconds or so. While that would be good enough to easily beat his virtual competitors — if a full second slower than the world record — Lyles was removed from the results and French sprinter Christophe Lemaitre, competing in Switzerland, was given the win in 20.65 seconds. “It actually felt pretty good besides getting that full gust of wind,” Lyles said. Not that good, though.