Josephus Lyles Eyes The Podium

Although his early successes as a pro came in the 400, the younger of the Lyles Brothers is now focusing on winning honors in the shorter dashes. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

ONE RUNG AT A TIME, season by season, workout by workout, race by race, Josephus Lyles — a year and 4 days younger than his high-profile sprinting brother Noah — is inching up on the competition at the top of the pyramid.

Don’t sleep on Josephus. He certainly isn’t, and he’s reveling in the process as practiced within coach Lance Brauman’s Florida-based Pure Athletics training group.

“We’ll be dancing at practice,” Lyles says, “we’ll be singing, we talk about whatever when we’re warming up. We have so many different conversations, but then when it gets to the workout everybody’s like, ‘OK, like let’s get it. What are we gonna do today?’

“I feel it’s almost like an understanding because everybody’s around similar skill levels. So it’s an understanding of, OK, when we go into a workout, how are we gonna do this as a group to maximize the efforts?”

Make no mistake, the efforts are paying off for the younger Lyles.

“In 2021, I was the first person out of the [200] finals at the U.S. Trials.” If you want to get technical, Matthew Boling, also a casualty in the semis, had him by a hundredth on time, 20.27–20.28. But Lyles’ point is made.

At the ’21 Pre Classic Josephus knocked his PR down to 20.03 placing 3rd to Tokyo medalists Noah and Kenny Bednarek.

“Last year,” he says, “I was the first person out of making the team at the Trials” — with a 19.93 PR, just 0.06 behind eventual WC silver medalist Bednarek.

“OK. So this year, the main goal is making the team. I feel like if I make the team, there’s probably a good chance that I medal. Last year, we had 4 [U.S. 200 men] make the team. The 3 people who were in the final, they all medaled. We swept.

“So the first goal is making the team, that is the most important goal. Be on the team in an open event. That’s really what I want. Once that happens, I know what I need to do. And then the goal is to medal.”

Every day in training Lyles is steeped in greatness. Brauman’s group includes ’16 Olympic 400 champion/WR holder Wayde van Niekerk and ’22’s indoor 400 world titlist Jereem Richards, also the Worlds 200 bronze medalist in ’17.

The men’s 100/200 sprint sub-group with which Lyles has trained alongside Noah since ’21 also includes ’14 World Junior 100 champion Kendal Williams.

“I love our training group,” Lyles says. “First of all. I feel like it’s a very good balance of intensity and also camaraderie and just fun. We train in the U.S. but we have guys from — Jereem is from Trinidad and Wayde is from South Africa. Shaunae [Miller-Uibo] is from Bahamas, and we have so many people from so many different places. When we come to practice, there’s so many different cultures and it’s funny cuz sometimes you would think that it wouldn’t blend, but everybody has the same goal.

“I feel like everybody just comes in with this energy of, ‘OK, we want to be great and, you know, we’re all just getting to the goal and having fun.”

Whereas you may recall that Lyles’ first three pro seasons, 2017–19, were 400-focused and at age 19 he raced a lap in 45.09 in ’18, he says that event choice was dictated to some extent by injuries and that one-year deficit in physical maturity versus his older brother.

“I always had short speed,” he says. I remember I would do the 60 and I ran fast in the 60 when I was in high school. I’ve always kind of wanted to run those shorter events but it just never worked out.”

Josephus won the New Balance Indoor Nationals short dash in ’16, clocking 6.64, a speedy prep, indeed. Last July he raced 10.03 for the 100.

“When I went professional,” he says, I’d always tell my coach I wanted to run the 1 and the 20. He was like, ‘You gotta be healthy to run the 1 and 2.’”

Injuries were not Lyles’ only consideration. “I was good in the 400 and I had feelings for the 400,” he says, “but I think the older I got and the more mature my body got, I had gained a lot of muscle mass. I feel like that started to make it a little bit harder to carry all of that around the track.”

In ’21 Lyles trained with Brauman’s 200/400 group for the first half of the season before the coach moved him down to sprint in practice with Noah mid-year.

Emphasizing the short sprints, Lyles says, “has allowed me to get much better form and mechanics.”

The process of physically maturing also had its say. Josephus at 24 is, to put it simply, just a bigger, more powerfully built sprinter than Noah.

“I’m a little bit taller than him, I’m a lot heavier than him,” Josephus says. “I’ve probably got like 30 or 40 pounds in terms of weight on him.”

The Lyleses are brothers, not clones. “it’s funny because we’re brothers, but I feel like what makes us fast is very different,” Josephus says. Noah’s a lot smaller than me. He’s a lot lighter than me.

“I feel like he is very elastic in that sense where like once he hits the ground, he’s right off the ground and once he gets to top speed, he can hold his top speed forever.

“Honestly, I feel like Noah would probably be an insanely good 400 runner.”

Josephus’s talent is all about power: “Even when we are doing blocks and creating forces, usually I’m better in that sense. If we’re doing jumps and stuff like that, there’s nobody in our camp that’s going to jump higher than me or jump further than me in terms of like broad jump, stuff like that.”

The brothers train at disparate levels, as well, in the weight room, where loads are set based on percentages of max for the key exercises.

For example, Lyles explains, “My 80% for power cleans is like 235, 240lb [105–110kg] where Noah’s is like 200lb, 210lb [90–95kg], something like that.”

On the track, per Lyles, Brauman’s constant mantra for him is, “I need you to just open up your stride. Just be a big guy, just eat up ground. I don’t care about how quick you are. Just be powerful and be open.”

Executing big guy sprint mechanics set Josephus on a steepish learning curve at the outset. “Even last year,” he admits, “I feel like I still sometimes got into that idea of I want to be quicker, I’m trying to be quicker. But this year I feel like I’ve gotten much better at not necessarily being quick, but being powerful and being very open in my stride length. And that’s helped me a lot.”

The landscape in the sprints these days includes more event shifting than usual. Michael Norman, the 400 world champion, recently announced he is dropping down to the 100. Diversely talented century titlist Fred Kerley, whose Collegiate Record for the lap Norman broke 5 years ago, looks set to stick around in the 100 and 200, notwithstanding his 44.65 outdoor lap in early March.

No matter. Lyles plans to stay his own course in the short dashes. “The 400 is very wide open,” he says, “but I think that I have a fairly high ceiling in the 1 and 2.

“I feel like I haven’t really got to show that yet. But I feel like, you know, it’s coming. Especially in the 100. I want to drop to the 100, the 100 is the ultimate goal.”

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