The fourth in a series of articles we are posting as part of our Olympic Trials Men’s 100 Preview.
GLOBAL COMMAND OF THE 200 has resided so reliably in Noah Lyles’ powerful legs the past two seasons that one sometimes loses sight of the 22-year-old’s prodigious 100-meter gifts in the slipstream. The distractions from the straightaway dash in favor of the around-the-bender have been multiple: a world title, two No. 1 World Rankings, three Diamond League crowns, 11 consecutive sub-19.9 meets (a string 4 meets longer than even Usain Bolt ever put together).
Yet high World Rankings in the 100—Nos. 3 & 2 in ’18 & ’19—were crucial, as well, to the pair of U.S. Athlete Of The Year selections the Florida-based Virginian earned the last two years. So was his DL title in the shorter dash last year, which he rolled to in Zürich a month before claiming his global half-lap crown.
Now, with the Olympic Trials his first momentous test of the concept, Lyles wants to be the player in the 100, too. He fully intends to double in Eugene. Lyles and coach Lance Brauman even wrestled with the 2-event option last season. Neither coach nor athlete had to convince the other for the Olympic year.
“No,” says Lyles. “I mean, we were planning to double in 2019 but the Diamond League moved the [ Wild Card for Doha’s WC] to a different year so I didn’t get the bye for the 200 from winning the Diamond League in 2018. So at that point U.S. Championships was set up so it would be really hard to try and do the double there. And we had, I don’t want to say a sure thing but it was very, very likely that I would have medaled in the 200 [in Doha] so we wanted to go with what we knew was going to happen and then next year you can focus on going through the double after we’ve gotten the experience of going to a big championships and then learning what we gotta change or how to better the season, that type of stuff.”
Lyles has never faced previous world champs Christian Coleman and silver medalist Justin Gatlin in a Nationals 100 final, though he has, of course, won a USATF century—in ’18 over Ronnie Baker with the other two leviathans absent. So Lyles knows dash rounds and anticipates few alterations to his workouts. “Not so much in the training,” he says. “I’ve always been trained like a doubler so it’s more just preparing going in with races will be different. So the amount of 100s I do versus 200s will change from previous years.”
Heavy workload preparation for 6 rounds over two events at the Trials and Games? Check. “I pride myself on my endurance and my training where we get out there and we do a lot of basework,” he says. “And to be honest, the only thing that I’d probably want to work on is just being able to go back with the intensity in the 100. In truth, when I was younger I wasn’t able to probably handle so much intense running in a short amount of time. But as I’ve gotten older and my body has developed more I can definitely handle it a lot better. And I’m excited to start testing that.”
Lyles scratched out his ’18 USATF win, his 9.86 PR same-time squeaker over Coleman in Shanghai last May and his DL victory all with sensational running in those 100s’ final stages. He’s a closer, not a starter. So far. “We’re definitely working on the start,” he says. “You’re only as strong as your weakest link so making your weaknesses stronger is always the goal and it’s been going really well so far. I’ve been able to do a lot of training in starts and transitioning and just working hard right now to better use that, be more efficient. Kind of things that I don’t get to do in a lot of years. (Continued below)
“Last year we were really focusing on just running the 200 at Worlds so we really focused on the strategy of the 200. This year we’re really focused on the strategy of the 100. I’ve kind of got a strong hold on what I want to do in the 200. So it’s really the 100. I haven’t always had as much time in previous years so this is really a time to dig down and get at it.”
Brauman’s adidas group, based in Clermont, Florida, numbers more than 25 now. Lyles has partners in start-line practice aplenty. “Let’s see,” he says. “Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake’s in my blocks group, Jaylen Bacon, Kendal Williams. Warren Weir’s in there and Alonso Edward.” The slowest PR in that group is 10.02—belonging to ’13 Worlds 200 silver medalist Weir.
At the last OT, in the Rio year, Lyles’ near-miss 4th-place 200 finish as a high schooler was one of the stories of the meet. “To be honest, it was like I was going in with a dream that could probably come true and now I feel like I’m about to finish the dream because it didn’t happen like I wanted to,” he says.
“But this year—I always knew that if in 2016 I could make the team, I would go down in history automatically. But I knew that if I didn’t make that team, I would for sure make the 2020 team. So now it’s like we’ve gotten to that point and I have more confidence than I thought I would back in 2016. Coming into 2020, I’m like, ‘Yeah, this is the year I take it all.’”