DOHA, Qatar, Oct 7 – Exit Usain Bolt, enter the United States.
As the desert dust settled on the World Championships on Sunday, American sprinters were left celebrating their biggest medal haul in more than a decade.
After picking up just one gold medal in the men’s sprinting events in London two years ago, the Americans headed for home with five out of a possible seven golds stowed away in their luggage.
It was the largest tally since the six sprinting golds won by the US at the 2007 championships in Osaka, a year before the dawn of Bolt’s decade of dominance at the Beijing Olympics.
In Doha, the US men bagged gold in the 100m, 200m and 110m hurdles before victories in the 4x100m and 4x400m relays.
More signficantly, Doha confirmed the emergence of a new generation of US sprinters who will head to the Olympics in Tokyo next year as the men to beat.
Christian Coleman, the newly crowned 100m world champion, and Noah Lyles, the victor in the 200m, delivered performances in Doha that suggest they are capable of dominating for years to come.
Coleman, who narrowly avoided being banned from the championships after missing three drugs tests in a year, became the sixth fastest man in history with his 100m win in 9.76 seconds.
Lyles, meanwhile, surged to 200m gold in 19.83sec.
Both Coleman, 23, and Lyles, 22, have youth on their side, and are preparing to take their rivalry to a heightened level next season.
After restricting themselves to one individual event in Doha, Coleman and Lyles have vowed to chase a 100m-200m double in Tokyo.
– Torch bearers –
“We’re both competitive and young and we’re carrying the torch for USA sprinting,” Coleman said of his rivalry with Lyles.
“I think we make each other better. When I’m working hard every day, I know he’s down there in Florida grinding.
“So whenever we match up it’s going to be fireworks. I’m looking forward to our rivalry in the future.”
Lyles, meanwhile, said that reports of a rift with Coleman earlier this season had been overblown.
“We’re very competitive and very talented and we want to go out there and make the USA the best country in the world,” Lyles said.
“So every time we step on the track, whether it’s against each other or together, we’re going to give our best 100 percent.”
That sense of shared determination was in view on Saturday, when Coleman and Lyles led the American men to victory in the 4x100m in the second fastest time in history.
The US has a dismal record in what in theory should be one of their strongest events, and had not won the relay gold since 2007.
“We broke a generational curse today and we’re going to keep that going for years to come,” Lyles wrote on Twitter after the win.
With personal bests in the 100m and 200m that are faster than Bolt’s over each distance at the same age, the charismatic Lyles looks the best bet to fill the vacuum created by the Jamaican icon’s retirement.
“This time last year I’d only just started running,” said Lyles after his 200m win. “Think of that.”
“But don’t say I’m the new Bolt. I’m me. If you like me, I’ll happily entertain you. It’s my time.”
The 37-year-old Justin Gatlin, meanwhile, says he may stick around a bit longer as Coleman and Lyles’ rivalry heats up.
Gatlin, who celebrated the first relay gold of his career on Saturday, was left impressed at how the likes of Coleman and Lyles responded in the 4x100m final after narrowly escaping disqualification in Friday’s semi-finals.
“I take my hat off to my team-mates, for being brave, and not feeling that stigma of Team USA always dropping the stick, or not finishing, or something always happening or going wrong,” Gatlin told AFP.
“They broke that curse. And I’m grateful for these guys to give me that gift tonight.”