Exclusive! Noah Lyles: It’s a serious note this year, I got a message to prove

After becoming the 200m world champion, a turbulent year led Lyles - who features in new Olympic Channel series Athletes to Watch - to depression. Ahead of the new season, he's ready to run fast.

By Andrew Binner

Sprint sensation Noah Lyles wants the world to ‘pay attention’ to his message this year, ahead of the Diamond League athletics season opener in Monaco on Friday (August 14).

Following the outbreak of coronavirus, the American has only been able to compete in local meets in his home country, where the facilities have prevented him from performing at his prime.

“I’m so excited, this is going to be my first race inside a stadium [since the pandemic started], as everywhere else has just been at local track meets where you can’t control the wind,” the 23-year-old told Olympic Channel.

“I want an official time, so I’ve geared up knowing that this track is going to be fast, it’s one of my favourite places to race, in Monaco, and this is where I’m going to try and run really fast.

“My coach told me I’m ready, and when he says ‘You’re ready’, he’s not playing around.”

Lyles features in the new Olympic Channel series Athletes to Watch, which profiles the athletes set to light up the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, and you can watch his episode below.

Noah Lyles: From world champion to depression

Last season, the Florida native was crowned 200m world champion and looked to have the world at his feet.

On top of his dazzling displays on the track, Lyles treated fans to entertaining exhibits of dancing, singing, and even dyed hair in the style of his favourite anime character.

But with his success and popularity, came heavy burden. Following the world championships, commercial obligations, an extremely busy travel schedule, and a lack of time spent with his loved ones resulted in the young star falling into depression.

“Even before world championships, I was just in Europe for so long, and I was getting really homesick" Lyles told Olympic Channel, "and I thought about going home so many times because I was getting really depressed and getting into that mindset that I don’t want to even train any more."

While he was managing his feelings with the help of a therapist, things got considerably worse in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, followed by the events that led to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Eventually, he turned to antidepressant medication, and revealed in a tweet last month how it had helped him.

“I didn’t feel like it was very hard to share, as I’m constantly talking about mental health. I was more shocked by how many people were sharing [the tweet].

“It got to the point where I was just so deep, deep inside of myself that I was just putting on a face and doing what I needed to do. My family came down for Christmas and my Mum was really starting to worry about me. So that’s when I started ringing my personal therapist on a regular basis, and it was going well for a time but once coronavirus hit and the Black Lives Matter movement started happening, it created the perfect storm."

“I couldn’t get my needs out. I need to be active, I need personal connections, I need to be able to touch people… that’s a love language and something that people need and I’m definitely one of those people and I wasn’t able to get it.” - Noah Lyles to Olympic Channel

"Make sure you pay attention."

That Lyles will cut a more serious figure on the track this year is hardly surprising.

Upon being asked if we’d be treated to similar displays of showmanship, the 23-year-old revealed it would be unlikely.

“I don’t think so. I think it’s more of a serious note this year, I got more of a message to prove.

“You’re going to have to watch. Make sure you pay attention.”

Brotherly love on the track

Lyles’ family plays a focal part in his life, and he will undoubtedly take great comfort in seeing a lot more of his brother Josephus this season.

For this Friday in Monaco, the sprint siblings will line up against each other for the first time in international competition in the 200m.

In what will be an amazing moment for the family scrapbook, world champion Lyles will be on hand to give his less-experienced brother all the advice he needs.

“It’s nothing new, we competed all through high school,” Lyles continued.

“If he has any questions, I’m eager to tell him [the answers] because of course I just want him to run as fast as he can.

“Of course I don’t think he can beat me, but that’s that brotherly rivalry right there. He’s going to be fine, he’s been PR’ing [recording personal best times] every chance he’s had on the track this year, so I’m pretty sure he’s going to do well.

“Usually we have to travel alone so it’s just good to have someone that I can actually travel with.”

The importance of mental training

Perhaps Lyles has been passing on some pearls of wisdom regarding the importance he places on mental training.

The 2014 Youth Olympic champion over 200m even suggests in his Athletes to Watch episode that as much as 90% of track and field success comes from the brain, and not the body.

“You can only train your body to a certain point, but you can always expand your mind,” he offered.

“A lot of people don’t understand that they can tap into the idea of, ‘If I have a strong mindset, even when my body is down, I can make it do something." - Noah Lyles to Olympic Channel

“I used to have this thread on twitter, and it was all the ways that you can get faster and you’d notice that none of them had to do with actual training, it had to do with what you’re doing outside of training. Listening to your coach, creating a plan, stretching, making sure that you recover. Those are the things that make sure you have longevity so that you can run. Because if you’re hurt, you can’t run, can’t train, and can’t get better.”

Breaking world records

Given his success over 100m and 200m in the Diamond League, and his ambitions to do The Double at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, comparisons with Usain Bolt have become avoidable for Lyles.

Keen to break free of the constant reminders of what has come before him, the American is keen to show the world that he is not following in anyone’s footsteps in athletics, but rather blazing his own trail.

“I plan to keep on breaking the world record multiple times,” he said openly.

“Maybe go after a 9.5 [second 100m time]... and in the 200m look at the 18-second barrier.

“I think that would end the comparisons with Usain Bolt!”

While those claims may sound bold, they are not without substance. Lyles’ times are in fact quicker than those of his Jamaican counterpart when he was the same age.

With an improving head space, his brother by his side, and the determination to prove a point to the world, expect something big from 23-year-old Lyles this Friday in Monaco.