Noah Lyles was in an understandably jubilant mood after winning the 200 meters at last month’s World Athletics Championships. It wasn’t just that night’s victory. He had won gold in the 100 earlier in the competition, so his second world championship capped a rare double, putting him in a count-on-one-hand tier with some of the greatest athletes of all time, in any sport: Usain Bolt, Carl Lewis, Jesse Owens. (For good measure, he anchored the winning 4x100 relay, too, making it a triple.)
So when he was asked to reflect on his status as the undisputed fastest man in the world, you might be able to understand the impulse to talk a little shit. Specifically he took aim at the habit of American sports leagues to refer to their winners as world champions: "You know what hurts me the most is that I have to watch the NBA Finals and they have 'world champion' on their head. World champion of what? The United States?" he said.
In the sports-news-starved environment of late summer, this was enough to kick off a cycle of discourse. (“Somebody help this brother,” chimed in Kevin Durant.) And it’s still going: weeks later, after the United States was eliminated by Germany in the FIBA world championship, a multi-day saga of bug-eyed Stephen A. Smith monologues ended in a somber video titled, in part, “He was right. I was wrong.”
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