Noah Lyles is sprinting past opponents and childhood hurdles

DOHA, Qatar -- What, considered Noah Lyles, would the bullies who tortured him at school think of him now?

The tormentors whose words stung so much that it shoved him into a depressive funk in his teens and threatened to rob him of confidence and hope.

Who led him to require counselling and medication -- and then salvation through the safe space he found within the eight lanes of the track.

Perhaps, they saw him as a victim, already frayed and vulnerable, easy to pursue.

They'd never dare attempt to catch Lyles these days. Too quick. The helpless prey has become a supreme predator.

After a dazzling run in IAAF World Championships on Tuesday, he is the champion of the world in the 200 meters. "I've had tons of people who've believed in me," he told ESPN.com. The rest, no longer of any concern. And if track and field demands a successor to Usain Bolt, then the 22-year-old has emerged as the prime contender, accelerating ahead of the pack.

His rivals chased shadows beneath the lights as the American eased to victory in 19.83 seconds, not his fastest time of the year but enough to leave Canada's Andre De Grasse in the shade with Ecuador's Alex Quinonez to snatch bronze.

Hair dyed silver prior to arrival, he departed with a trinket of a grander color. Yet still, it felt beneath of what Lyles had expected and demanded of himself.

"I was after 19.3," he said with a grin. Short of the world record he has pledged to pick from the pocket of Bolt, whose historic best of 19.19 seconds has now survived for a decade.

Time, however, is on his successor's side.

"I still have a lot to work on," he warned. "A start I need to clean up. I still believe I can get a better top end speed. There are things which I haven't learned or that I can strengthen."

Lyles did not always carry himself with such easy assurance. He tells a story of how he was first sent to therapy at 9 years old to try and lure him out of his shell.

He had suffered from asthma for years. A troublesome immune system, pesky allergies, which still plague him to this day.

It tore at his body. But also afflicted his mind.

"I didn't think I was attractive," he recalled. "I didn't have a lot of confidence in myself."

Traveling from city to city, from birth in Gainesville, Florida to Virginia to stops in and around, the seeds of an attraction to the track were sown by his parents, Keisha Caine and Kevin Lyles, the former a fine collegiate athlete at Seton Hall, the latter preceding his son as a world champion by running in the heats of the USA's victorious 4x400 relay quartet in Gothenburg in 1995.

Athletic genes passed down. But the elder of their two children had other worries beyond teasing and taunts.

"I dealt with chronic asthma from a very young age," he said. "I had my tonsils removed at 6. Going through surgery at a young age doesn't put the most positivity in your mind.

"I had the learning disability ADD (attention deficit disorder) and I also have dyslexia. I was in the slow classes at school because I had to learn how to read differently.

"Mainstream traditional school just wasn't my forte or my strong suit. I kind of got isolated at middle school."

Periods of depression came and went. Formative years, made all the more taxing. "I used track," he says, "as an outlet."

In so many ways, it is surprising that a wallflower should be drawn to the unforgiving amphitheater of sprinting.

A place for the bravest. With no hiding place for the meek. All-in, or nothing. Where a touch of what the Italians call braggadocio is an asset. Brashness -- an acceptable trait.

As he learned to translate raw muscle into extraordinary fleetness of feet, Lyles also journeyed toward a degree of normalcy and control. The athletics track was his refuge. A sphere in which he could fail, but then rebound.

"Building upon that little by little, my mom raised me very well," he said. "And I tried to work on my character as much as I can, on always staying happy and loving what I do."

Winning feels joyous, he signaled. The good times are rolling. Acclaim. Accomplishments. Global gold. Inevitably, still, days when he spins down the hill. Just like anyone, he says. Work to be done.

Lyles will bid to extend this present elation this weekend. He is slated to run the 4x100-meter relay when the Americans will be prohibitive favorites for victory.

He will adjoin the men's 100-meter champion, Christian Coleman, provided his compatriot has recovered from the "soreness" that spurred his late withdrawal from the 200.

With Lyles opting out of the shorter sprint in Doha -- even though he is ranked second this season -- it denied the world an entralling head-to-head between the pair.

Questions continue to surround Coleman's seemingly indifferent attitude to the anti-doping process following three missed tests inside 12 months that so nearly earned him a ban.

By default, Lyles -- the more effervescent of the duo -- is placed to become the face of the sport. Lightning quick shoes to fill. Bolt's shoes.

"World records aren't the thing I'm chasing," Lyles said. "I'm chasing being better each day. World records come when you improve what you're good at and what you're bad at."

Maybe in Tokyo next summer, when an Olympic title will be on offer with all the added luster that might bring.

"On the right day," he beamed, "with the right conditions with the right training, hopefully a world record will pop up."

Confident in his untapped potential, he will no longer cower into submission.