There might not have been a track and field athlete in history, male or female, who was more breathtaking and peerless than Usain Bolt. The eight-time Olympic gold medalist and 11-time world champion ran roughshod over his foes in the 100-meters, 200-meters and 4x100 meter relays for a decade thanks to his uniquely tall and long frame which allowed him to win races by taking fewer steps than the rest of the field.
What made the 6’5” Bolt such a transformative figure in a sport that usually gains the sports world attention every four years was the ebullient way he would entertain before and after a race. What enthralled fans the most was that they were not just watching the greatest sprinter ever, but the utmost showman in the history of the sport.
It was the ultimate theater witnessing Usain Bolt – he owned the big moment and had us all hooked.
Yet his retirement in 2017 left a tremendous void in a sport that begs for a star when the world’s eyes are upon it. Now we need another track and field athlete, or perhaps several athletes, to latch onto.
So who could potentially fill the void left behind by the track legend?
Three athletes who might take the baton are Noah Lyles, Christian Coleman and Sydney McLaughlin. All three are American sprinters who are emerging forces and could be considered the faces of track and field so long as each have strong showings at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar.
Lyles does his best work in the 100 and 200 meters, though Coleman himself soars in the 100 meters. McLaughlin shines in the 400-meter hurdles.
For Sydney McLaughlin, she has always been a "born ready" performer. The 20-year-old from New Jersey was a track phenom, the likes of that the sport hasn’t seen since Allyson Felix in the early 2000s.
At the age of 14, McLaughlin set a national high school freshman record time (55.63) in the 400-meter hurdles at the National Junior Under-20 Championships. She set a world-best time for a 15-year-old (55.28) at the 2015 National Youth Trials. The following year, she won gold at the Junior Outdoor Track and Field Championships. At 16, she become the youngest track and field athlete to make the U.S. Olympic team since Carl Lewis and Dean Howard in 1980 in Moscow – a Summer Olympiad which the United States boycotted.Sydney McLaughlin celebrating after her 400-meter hurdles Diamond League title in August. Photo Credit: TeamUSA.org
McLaughlin is a two-time Gatorade National Girls Athlete of the Year (2016, 2017) and the first repeat winner in the award’s short history. She could have reaped the financial benefits by turning pro but decided to pass and attend the University of Kentucky. While on campus, McLaughlin won gold at the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships, breaking the NCAA and collegiate record in the 400-meter hurdles at 52.75 in the process. She also took home gold at the NCAA Women’s Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Since McLaughlin turned pro, she’s been justifying all the hype with her precision-like displays on the track. During the 2019 IAAF Diamond League season (a series of 14 events across the world), Syd The Kid has went toe-to-toe with fellow American and Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad. In three races where they both participated, McLaughlin got the better in two of those matchups, including winning their third meeting in Zurich, Switzerland last month with her season-best time of 52.85, while also claiming her first career Diamond League trophy in the 400-meter hurdles.
Expect both McLaughlin and Muhammad to be in peak form when they battle it out in Doha.
With her upright fluid stride, sound running technique, calm demeanor and a sharp-witted presence about her, McLaughlin is destined to win Olympic and World Championship gold medals in the future. While she doesn’t boast the palpable personality that Bolt had, McLaughlin has all the traits to be a marketing attraction. Stardom is inevitable to come her way.
If you’re looking for anyone to take the mantle from Bolt on the men’s side, then look no further then to the pair of Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles.
Not only do both compete against one another in the 100-meter and 200-meter events but there’s enough brewing -- on and off the track -- in their early matchups to suggest that Coleman and Lyles could be the next great rivalry, in the mold of Carl Lewis vs. Ben Johnson, Michael Johnson vs. Maurice Greene and Bolt vs. Justin Gatlin.
Coleman, 23, is a sprinter stoutly built from the shoulders and up, and his biggest asset is his blistering start out the blocks in the 100-meter dash, his best event. The world indoor record-holder in the 60-meter dash (6.34) has an all-business, “I let my results do the talking” mentality. He announced himself to the track community at the 2017 World Championships in the 100-meter final against both Bolt and Gatlin, where he gained silver behind Gatlin. If there's someone who is best equipped to securely snatch the title of “fastest man in the world” – one which Bolt claimed, and Gatlin has recently had – then it’s Coleman. Yet, one weakness he has lies in the 100-meter sprints where he tends to somehow fade in the last 30 meters of races after consistently jumping out to a lead in the first 70 meters.
Someone who doesn’t have a problem finishing in the late stretches of races is the slender Lyles. At 21, Lyles seems best suited for a Bolt-esque performance and persona. Not only does Lyles specialize in the same event (200-meters) that Bolt lorded over for a decade, but it’s his showmanship, playful side and swagger. What we crave most from our elite athletes is that they produce results with an exciting style that we can gravitate to. Lyles checks all those boxes.Noah Lyles (left) and Christian Coleman (right) going against each other in the 200-meter final at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in July. Photo Credit- Eurosport
On the track, the results have come in a hurry for both. In 2018, Coleman won the overall 100-meter men’s Diamond League title, as Lyles took home the U.S. crown in the 100-meters and second straight overall 200-meter men’s Diamond League title. However, in two head-to-head meetings in the 100 that year, Coleman got the better of Lyles.
This year, while Coleman won the 100-meters title at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in July (Lyles did not race), Lyles has seemingly topped his peer in the wins category by snagging a rare Diamond League 100-200 meters double crown. He defeated Coleman in the 200-meter final at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships and also made a huge statement in Shanghai in May by beating his rival head-to-head at the 100.
At this point, Lyles seems like a better bet to win against Coleman at his best event (100-meters) than Coleman is to win against Lyles at his best event (200-meters). The fact that there seems to be a little Twitter beef fermenting adds to the intrigue of a possible showdown between the two at the upcoming World Championships. Hostility amongst the two best 100-meter runners in the world will only add more fuel to an already emerging rivalry and draw fans to a sport that’s not usually on their personal radar.
At the conclusion of the World Championships, the sports world may be recognizing this American triumvirate as the new conquerors of track and field.