Thursday, January 20

‘In my head I have no rivals’: Noah Lyles’s quest to take the Usain Bolt crown | Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Noah Lyles has already run the Olympic 100m final in Tokyo.

A thousand times. In your head.

“Crowd full of fans. Night. Lights all shining on the track. I imagine looking at those blocks that I’m very familiar with, making sure to go over my plan in my head, probably getting ready to do whatever intro I do, and I expect a lot of cheers, ”he says.

Spoiler alert: Your in-house movie has you behind at 50, then hitting the fast forward button at 60 and smoothly navigating the rest of the field to win gold, perhaps with a world record. It is a textbook directed by Lyles.

But he’s no stranger to track and field dreams. When he was a teenager, he ran into the kitchen one morning to tell his mother Keisha that he had broken the world record for 100 meters in 9.41. “And he wasn’t even pushing!” he says.

Lyles will turn 24 next month and while the Covid Olympics may not match his dream show, he truly believes they will herald the beginning of the Noah era. Natural talent, jumping ambition, charisma and supreme confidence are a given, but he also possesses the rarest of qualities in an athlete, an aura of invincibility when it counts. Ask any of your rivals and they will all name you as their biggest threat. So ask Lyles about its rivals.

“No, I don’t think much about the rivals. I mean, honestly, in my head I have no rivals. Athletics is one of those sports where you have to focus on yourself and your own lane. For me, it’s liberating, ”he says.

Win or lose, Lyles is the best showman on the track and is sure to be one of Tokyo’s great attractions. His speed seems effortless God-given, but he offers so much more to a sport stripped of Usain Bolt, its only global megastar. Lyles can excite a crowd like the Jamaican, he has the attitude, the skill and the star quality. The camera loves it.

He is also the man widely indicated to succeed Bolt as the fastest man in the world and this weekend he takes a big step towards his first Olympics in the relentless trials of the United States. As usual, only the top three qualify for Tokyo. No ifs, maybes, wild cards or second chances. Lyles will also race the 200, where, as the reigning world champion, he is the absolute favorite. The 100 is more of a lottery. But he has beaten everyone.

“My mentality in the 100 is more aggressive, fast, still loose, there is actually more thinking in the 100, which is funny because it is a faster race,” he says. “Going for 200, I have a few keywords in my head throughout the race. ‘Get out,’ stand tall ‘,’ fast and stride ‘,’ keep fit ‘, but compared to 100, it’s very different. There’s a lot less thinking in 200. “

Lyles was born in Florida, and after his parents separated, he grew up in a one-bed apartment in a suburb of Washington, DC, with his mother and younger brother Josephus, where money was tight. He had asthma, dyslexia, and ADD, and struggled academically in school, but excelled in sports. She was fond of gymnastics and high jump, although it was watching the opening of the London Olympics on television that really fired her imagination.

“It was the moment when everything fell into place,” he says. “I think my brother came up with the idea. It was one of those moments where you ask yourself, ‘I want to do that,’ and then you think, ‘No, wait, I can do that, ‘and then it became,’ Let’s do that. ‘

Two years later, at only 17 years old, he imperiously advanced to victory in the 200 meters of the World Youth Games. A star was born and almost every American college made their way to her door when she dropped out of high school. Breaking with the conventional he signed as a professional. Thanks to your sponsors and Diamond League victories, money is no longer in short supply, but you will never forget the sacrifices your mother made. Not the camaraderie with his brother.

“They are my whole team, especially since my mom is like my mom and my brother is my training partner and it has been very nice to have him back in action, we are very good for each other,” he says. “We balance ourselves.”

Recently, the normally effervescent Lyles revealed that depression had haunted him so bad in 2020 that he sought therapy. He blamed a combination of Covid-led inactivity and the troubles behind the Black Lives Matter campaign for unleashing the dark clouds, but regular medication returned him to stability.

Another key to fighting the disease has been his alter ego: Noah Lyles, the entertainer. When he’s not fighting monsters like your own anime character, you will find him creating music – under the name Nojo18 – with a dozen singles and EPs already under his belt. And of course, there is the unique style. Their hair changes color and shape from race to race, and their sense of dress is equally eclectic.

“It’s very important to me, it helps me get out of my mind, which, as someone with ADD, depression and anxiety, can happen very easily,” he says. “It helps me be myself, it helps me have fun, it helps me get out there and give the crowd something to look forward to. I don’t want people to get bored with sports. It can be very monotonous if all you say is, ‘Oh yeah, I go around the track in half a circle.’

The flip side of the globetrotting circus (when it finally returns) is the responsibility of the role model. He confesses that it is one of the parts of his life that he least enjoys.

Noah Lyles leads Team USA to 4x100m gold at 2019 world championships
Noah Lyles leads Team USA to the 4x100m gold at the 2019 world championships. Photograph: Petr David Josek / AP

“My part that I like the least is how responsible I have to be. I got into the professional side of the sport when I was 19 and it basically made me have to become a 30-year-old player, 10 years before I was ready, ”he says. “Most people can access social media and tweet whatever they want, I can’t do that. I have kids watching what I do, I have to see what kind of branding I’m putting on because now I have a job and my job is to make sure I don’t mess anything up with any of my brands.

“I have to take care of what I put in my body. Some people have allergies and take anything for them; I can’t do that because a lot of those normal allergy medications contain things that would make me test positive. These are all things that aren’t fun at my job and make me have to be overly cautious to the point where it can make you a little paranoid, but at the end of the day, it’s worth it. “

So how will Noah Lyles land in Tokyo?

“I have been thinking of many looks. I am thinking more about, rather than colors, I am thinking about how I braid my hair. I’ve been cultivating it a lot. I did an interview recently, I was talking about how, of course, with the Black Lives movement, a lot of black kids hate their hair, “he says. “They make fun of them for that, they are forced to look at their bodies and say, ‘I don’t like that.’ So I’ve been thinking of different hairstyles that I can do that are unique to black people, to let you know that here is an athletic star who goes to the Olympics and is proud of her hair. “

Fashion aside, Lyles doesn’t articulate his goals in the same way as Bolt. The great Jamaican spoke openly of leaving the sport as a living legend. For him it is a job done. For Lyles, his work is just beginning, although he refuses to set times and medals for fear of limiting his potential.

“The medals are always more important. Records are broken all the time, but everyone remembers a medalist, ”he says. “Everyone likes that Usain Bolt broke those world records, but to be honest it’s because he won three medals in three Olympics, something that no other man has done in sprinting.

“I want to be known as a person who changed the sport. Go out, be a showman, I love being a showman, I want to encourage other people to say that you don’t have to be too aggressive when you go out for a 100 or a 200. “

When asked how future writers can document their own career, as the next 100-meter Olympic champion, Lyles is very clear. “I hope there is a note from me about how good the crowd engagement was,” he says. “I hope they talk about how well I promoted other people’s careers and how I made a plan for others. And, of course, he will say that I was fast. “

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