Noah Lyles Ready To Defend His World Title

He was a disappointed 3rd in the Olympics but Noah Lyles is aiming for the top spot in Eugene this summer. (ANDREW McCLANAHAN)

WITH A NEW PR at 60m — the indoor dash which has never been a favorite for a sprinter whose special mojo typically rushes like a whitewater rapid in the homestretch of 200s — Noah Lyles is rolling with purpose. Come July he has a deuce world title to defend and a Wild Card entry that already ensures his spot on the startline for the heats.

Lyles, still only 24, rung down the ’21 campaign at the Pre Classic in August with a 19.52 win — just 0.02 off his career low — over Kenny Bednarek, who had just bested him by a medal spot in Tokyo. Noah’s younger brother Josephus dashed to 3rd at Pre in a PR 20.03.

True, the favored Lyles would have preferred to pocket gold, not bronze, in Tokyo. But he says he lives by a philosophy his coach espouses. Lance Brauman, who has mentored the Lyles brothers since ’17 when Noah won his first Diamond Trophy, gave voice to the thought at a team meeting in January before the new campaign began, per Noah:

“You’re going to have your highest highs and your lowest lows and you want to try and stay in that middle area. So if you win and you’re on a cloud 9, you want to remind yourself, ‘Hey, you know, this is a great moment, but the next race you’re coming in as a new person.’

“That means that past wins don’t matter or that past losses don’t matter. You gotta make sure that you do process the loss, just even say you understand that you feel what you feel, you learn from what you did, and you just tell yourself you’re going to do better next time and forget about it.”

Lyles has done just that, turned the page on his first Olympic season, and with the New Balance Indoor win in his second race of ’22, he demonstrated he has been studying.

“We’ve kind of been analyzing Trayvon [Bromell] and Christian [Coleman] a lot more, especially in that first 20m,” he explained immediately after the 60 on Staten Island. “We’ve kind of rethought the idea of getting the most out of your stride, getting the most out of your power. I used to think that it was more like the shin angle was kind of driving it, but it’s more of the knees, a big knee then coming back down. You kind of get that power step while helping you stay on top of yourself so you don’t get away from yourself.

“And I think that was my biggest problem. It was too far in front, so I’m just kind of diverting all my energy up into the air instead of down the track.”

To cap his all-60s indoor campaign, Lyles essayed another win in Birmingham, catching fellow Olympian Ronnie Baker at the line as he snipped another 100th from his best, both sprinters clocking 6.55s.

Whereas, as Lyles says, “Indoors ain’t my bread and butter,” he is off to a promising start, pun intended.

His training sessions in Clermont, Florida, with Brauman and his international cast of adidas sprint stars have him buoyant about outdoor races ahead:

“To be honest, I’ve got big plans in the 200, and in the 100, but I’ve got an American Record in sight and the way practice has been going, it’s definitely seeing like it’s going to happen.”

For Lyles the prospect of a full-house World Champs on home soil at Hayward Field is music for his soul. As he said at Pre 7 weeks after taking the Olympic Trials crown at Oregon’s state-of-the-art track palace, “I don’t think you understand how lifeless it was in Tokyo to have no crowd there. It was dead silent. To come here and see a whole lot of people who love track, it was just amazing.”

Lyles, rarely stingy about crediting the competition, knows his half-lap specialty is riding on a high. Lining up against the likes of Olympic champion Andre De Grasse, Bednarek and 18-year-old Erriyon Knighton, the Tokyo 4th-placer, has to keep him on his toes. Yet he welcomes the rising tide.

“It’s fun to see,” Lyles says. “I remember when I first started after the 2018 season and I was just dropping 19.60s for fun. I was like, ‘Dang, I want other people to show up.’”

Lyles dropped 4 sub-19.70s in ’18 before his 19.50 at Lausanne the next year.

“I thought that this was going to make people want to run faster, he says. “And it just wasn’t coming for a while. There was a point where it was like, ‘If I’m not in the race, I know nobody’s going to run 19 seconds.’ And now I’m watching Diamond Leagues and other races and, oh, people are just dropping 19s out the wazoo.

“It is like, ‘This is exciting! OK, I can’t be complacent in myself.’”

As Lyles predicts he can reach new personal frontiers in the 100, as well, he is heartened by his winter early race sharpening and determined not to repeat the outcome of last summer’s OT century, a 7th-place finish in 10.05 after 9.95 and 9.97 in his heat and semi.

In the final, says Lyles, who often spoke candidly about mental health during the Olympic year, “I think I overthought so much what I wanted my first three steps to be that I rushed out of it so quickly. And I remember running, I’m like, ‘Am I in last?’ I mean, I remember watching the race and I think it’s been a very, very long time since I’ve ever watched a race [from one of the lanes]. I was literally thinking to myself this year is different.

“After that I literally went back and I was like, ‘I never want that to ever happen again.’ And I really don’t even know what happened. Usually in rounds I’m really good at coming back each round and being able to run, but I felt like I just didn’t have it.

“Or I convinced myself that I didn’t have it and I needed to push for more, at least. That was definitely a time where I feel that I would even say, ‘choked.’”

The antidote, as Lyles sees it, will be cooked up on the practice track.

“I feel that it really comes down in practice when you focus the most on yourself,” he says. “Of course, having training partners is fun, but if you don’t know that you’re going into each practice saying, ‘I’m going to work on this,’ then what are you going to do when it’s time to actually show up in a race?

“Are you going to go into a race and be like, ‘OK, Coach told me to work on this,’ and you draw a blank?

“Your mind just goes blank because you haven’t trained yourself to be able to go into situations with high intensity or even low intensity and be like, ‘Hey, I need to focus on this.’ And that’s what happens when people say, ‘Oh, my coach told me to do this, but I just couldn’t do it.’ You have to train your mind to be able to do that.”

When he’s not making music or fashion statements, or playing video- or board games — all passions that fill his off-track hours — Noah Lyles will be honing both mind and body this season with the podium’s top step his focus.

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