All eyes were on 22-year-old American Noah Lyles at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, and the new sprint star did not disappoint in his first major international event. Lyles went home with two gold medals: the 200m and the 4x100m relay, in which he sealed victory for his team in the anchor leg. His first-ever world title came as a huge relief to him. “So many times this year, I have thought about being world champion; you wouldn’t believe it. I said it to myself in the car,” he explained.
Strong sporting pedigree and a revelation at 17
Born in Gainesville, Florida, Lyles grew up in a sporty environment. Having started out as a gymnast, he switched to athletics when he was 12, following in the footsteps of his parents, Keisha Caine and Kevin Lyles, both of whom represented Seton Hall University. His father was even part of the American 4x400m relay team that took gold at the 1995 World Championships.
A talented champion in his school days at TC Williams High School near Washington, Lyles made a name for himself in the world of athletics by winning 200m gold at the Youth Olympic Games Nanjing 2014. Aged just 17, he won in a time of 20.80 seconds, finishing 0.4 seconds ahead of the runner-up, Botswana’s Baboloki Thebe. “It was really set up well for young people,” he recalls. “I actually made a lot of friends. I remember we had these cool things (Yoggers) that you could connect to share your details whenever you met someone. It definitively inspired me to the point that it made me want to go on to compete at the Olympics. I want to be Olympic champion.”
The following year, he cleared 2.03m in the high jump at high school and, in 2016, was in two minds about going to attend the University of Florida. Instead, he chose to turn professional along with his younger brother Josephus, a 400m specialist, under the guidance of Lance Brauman, a celebrated coach who is as stern as Lyles is outgoing.
The soul of an artist
“I want to be a showman,” Lyles explained. “I want people to be excited about what they are seeing. I wasn’t very self-confident as a child.” Since then, he has come into his own both on and off the athletics track. “I’m hugely creative; I wrote 25 rap songs. It’s possible [I’ll] have an album released in 2020.” Lyles is also a fashion enthusiast who models in fashion shows.
After picking up an Achilles injury in 2017, Lyles established himself as one of the best sprinters in the world in 2018. In 2019, he won both the 100m and the 200m in the Diamond League. His times were impressive; he set a personal best of 9.86 seconds in the 100m and went even better with an astonishing 19.50 seconds in the 200m in Lausanne in July 2019 – the fourth quickest time ever in the distance. This year, he decided not to run the 100m in the American trials for the World Championships in order to focus on the 200m, but he is planning to compete in both events in 2020.
World title in Doha followed by a triple at Tokyo 2020?
In Doha, without blowing away the competition, Lyles, who is of medium build (1.80m, 70kg), still held his own. Having clocked the eleventh fastest time in the heats, he won his semi-final with ease. In the final, he recovered from a slowish start to overtake his rivals at the bend and power down the home straight. With a time of 19.83 seconds, he beat the highly experienced Andre De Grasse (19.95) from Canada and Ecuador’s Álex Quiñónez (19.98). “It’s been a very long year filled with injuries, filled with hardships,” said Lyles. “The last three weeks were some of the hardest moments of my career, where I was isolated from my home and my family.”
He is now focusing all his energy on the Olympic Games in Tokyo. “I’m very excited for Tokyo. Japan is one of my favourite countries outside the US. I’ve got big plans.” Lyles’ number one goal is to secure the 100-200m double, although his first objective will clearly be to deliver at the American trials in Eugene to book his spot for Tokyo. Once he’s done that, he can really make the most of his first Olympic Games, and he’s already pictured the ideal scenario. “I’ve got a dream that I ran 9.41 in the semis at the Olympics,” he said. The perfect culmination would surely be to leave Japan with three gold medals, in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m – a feat that a certain Usain Bolt accomplished twice, but one that no American has managed since Carl Lewis in 1984.