BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Ever since Usain Bolt exited the men’s sprint game, the 100 meters — the race for the title of “Fastest Man in the World” — has been a snoozy affair filled with men of few words and names from out of nowhere.
Maybe, just maybe, that’s about to change, just in time for the run-up to next year’s Paris Olympics.
Two of the fastest sprinters in the United States, Noah Lyles and Fred Kerley, brought some smack talk and even a bit of fun back to track, turning a routine news conference Friday in advance of the start of world championships into something a tad better.
The spark was Lyles’ recent declaration on social media that he’s aiming to run 9.65 seconds in the 100 and 19.10 in the 200, which is his specialty.
Someone asked Kerley, the defending world champion, what he might tell people about himself with the 100 set to kick off Saturday.
“I’m Fred Kerley, this is my title,” he said. “If Noah’s going to run 9.65, then I’m running faster.”
To which Lyles, sitting on the opposite end of the table, shot back: “That’s what they all say ’til they get beat.”
Even if the whole thing was pre-planned — there was no real sign that it was — it was as much life as this race has seen since Bolt, who set records, won nine Olympic gold medals and, even at that, saved his best entertainment for after the races, left the sport in 2017.
Speaking of Bolt, if Lyles meets his goals, the 9.65 would be the third fastest time ever in the 100 — a time only the Jamaican has beaten. And 19.10 in the 200 would shatter Bolt’s 14-year-old mark by .09.
Lyles, who won gold at last year’s worlds when he broke Michael Johnson’s hallowed American record (19.32) by one-hundredth of a second, said he’s not afraid to set the bar high — or low, as the case may be.
He explained that some of his training runs have his coach, Lance Brauman, raising his eyebrows. And Brauman, Lyles said, “is a guy who does not get excited at all.”
“I don’t have a problem saying what my dreams are,” Lyles said. “I don’t care if people think I can do it or not. I don’t even care if I can’t do it. But if I don’t say it to myself, it’s never going to happen.”
That the Americans are dreaming big in the sprints is no surprise. Last year, they swept both the 100 and the 200, even with Lyles not entered in the shorter race.
Even though he and Kerley were poking each other, they saved their best shade for the defending Olympic champion. Marcell Jacobs of Italy was basically unknown outside his own country before the Tokyo Games and has been basically invisible since because of a series of injuries.
“It was a tough and long year,” Jacobs had said a day earlier at a separate media event. “But now I’m here 100% committed and I just want to find back the good feeling with the track, with myself, and just to make the best out of it and get the best results I can.”
His only 100-meter race from this year listed on the World Athletics website came in June in Paris, where he ran 10.21 and finished seventh. When an Italian journalist asked the Americans what they thought of the Olympic gold medalist’s form, both chimed in.
“I know what form he’s in. We’ve all seen it,” Lyles said.
Then Kerley: “Ain’t nobody worried about him.”
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