T&FN Interview — Noah Lyles

Lyles worked on his start this winter and it paid off with a PR 6.51 in the 60. (VICTOR SAILER/PHOTO RUN)

LET THE RECORD SHOW that magic acts are not Noah Lyles’ favorite entertainment. The twice world champion 200 American Record holder prefers real results — “how did he do that?!” true life performances on the track — to conjurer’s tricks.

Lyles, now 25 and eager to wow crowds with magic that is reality on the outdoor oval and straight in coming months, stated his view on legerdemain as he strolled up for this chat in a Las Vegas hotel conference center.

Global Athletics & Marketing, agent Mark Wetmore’s company that numbers Lyles as one of its A-list clients, assembled most of its roster in the Nevada entertainment mecca in early March for a 2-day media summit plus some fun and relaxation before the sport takes itself outdoors this spring. (Continued below)

With meets on the near horizon, the Vegas schedules of the athletes, Lyles and his sub-20 sprinter brother Josephus included, had training sessions slotted in — work respites perhaps more stimulating than talking into cameras and microphones, another part of the job for any world-class sprinter.

This season, Lyles has said, he aims to add the 100 — and World Champs golds in both sprints— to his work product, heretofore focused primarily on the half-lap.

Lyles came to this interview straight from being filmed for an NBC segment (watch for it on a broadcast at some point) of athletes interacting with an entertainer whose identity was undisclosed until the act began. Elite athletes think big. Would Beyoncé appear?

Not quite. The entertainer of the hour was Piff The Magic Dragon, a magician clad in an outfit best described as half harlequin, half green monster.

Lyles looked a trifle amused and bewildered: “I felt they should have asked if we like magic before they started doing something like that.”

Not a standard track & field scenario but it led to the first question.

T&FN: Do you feel that set piece is going to fall flat on TV?

Lyles: No, no, no. He did a good job. He was fun, interactive. I personally just don’t like magic.

T&FN: Ah, OK. So switching gears here, you have been breathing fire on the track like a dragon lately.

Lyles: I like to think so.

T&FN: I’d like to ask first of all what has turned around for you in the last two years? You were running fast in 2021 but you were very open about the fact you were having some depression issues and transient motivational issues.

From a distance, you just seem to be a different athlete now — even apart from the American Record, world title defense, undefeated-at-200 season last year. What has turned around for you besides the fact that you’re just managing to figure out how to run faster?

Lyles: In terms of off the track, I would say it is kind of just bringing my circle in closer. And what I mean by that is the people that I know are here to help me in my journey, whether that is on the track with my coach, or my agency or my brother, my mom, my chiropractor.

And then we started adding more people that we felt we were missing out on.

A sports physio is our newest addition to the team. Her name is Jo Brown and she has been able to fill the gaps of physiotherapy that I haven’t been able to get 24/7. So, where I’ve kind of only done it to stay away from injuries, now I’m doing it to strengthen my weaknesses.

T&FN: OK. I saw some video before the Diamond League Final last year where you were talking about your stride and analyzing what you need to do to optimize it. Did she help you with that? Or is that something that you and Coach Lance Brauman have figured out?

Lyles: What specifically in my stride?

T&FN: This was months ago. My recollection is you were talking about the early part of your race and how your foot should strike.

Lyles: Um, no, that’s kind of stuff we’ve always been training on. I think this is the first time that it’s been explained to a wider audience. But biomechanics, studying the mechanics of the body, is track & field. Depending on how in-depth you go with it determines, I guess, how much you can start to understand or see how physics and track & field and times all correlate to each other.

But that’s definitely something that we’ve always had a keen eye for studying. (Continued below)

T&FN: You have made progress on your start technique. That is hugely important but not the difference between 19.6 or 19.5 and 19.3. What did it take to make that leap in the 200 last year?

Lyles: It just took good training. I mean, getting older, lifting a good body-to-weight ratio in the weight room, strengthening the muscles so that I can take on heavier loads.

You know, I don’t lift weights to particularly get as big as possible. I lift weights so that my muscles can handle the force that I’m putting into the ground when I train. If I’m not able to handle two sets of 60/80s— 60 and 80m on the track— then I’m not getting the full length of the workout I need to be able to handle running 19.3.

I need to be able to make it through. So that means I gotta make sure that I’m stronger in the gym so I can handle those workouts better. And then after we get through just handling the workouts, now let’s attack the workouts, let’s get what we really want out of it and are making sure that we’re measuring the progression correctly.

Last year we were kind of measuring my PR based off of 19.5, which makes sense. I was a 19.5 runner at the time, but as we got later and later into the season, it was like, “OK, obviously 19.5 is not the peak anymore — that’s not what we believe my fastest time could be.”

So we started adjusting it to train as if I can run faster than that. But now that we have an even faster time to go off of, we’re now going to judge the workouts based off of that.

Lyles has an impressive collection of Diamond League hardware, having won the 200 trophy in ’17, ’18, ’19 & ’22, plus the 100’s top honor in ’19. (GLADYS CHAI/ASVOM AGENCY)

T&FN: You’ve talked about your interest in breaking the World Record. Do you have a time in mind, a goal time for this year and for the Olympic year? Or is the 100/200 double, which you’ve also targeted, paramount in your mind right now?

Lyles: Right now the double is by far the biggest thing that I want. You know, the time will come with it, but the double is definitely what I want more than anything.

T&FN: Sprint doubles are rare currency, very special. What makes that quest particularly inspirational for you? Why is that what you most want to accomplish right now?

Lyles: What’s better than one gold medal? [laughs]

T&FN: Two.

Lyles: That’s pretty simple. You can’t go into the Book Of Legends just being good at one event. No, you need two events.

T&FN: Yeah. That’s a surefire way to get there. You have many off-the-track interests. Fashion is one of them. You can tell I’m not a fashion plate [laughing], but I really like that sweater you had on earlier, the Gucci/adidas one. Cool vintage look updated.

Lyles: Oh, yeah, yeah.

T&FN: Is that something that only Noah Lyles has or is that something you can buy?

Lyles: No, everybody can go and buy that. I bought it. I had to buy it [laughs].

T&FN: How does the fashion focus enhance your life and career, and your general happiness?

Lyles: I feel it’s a way to express myself there. You know track, you can show your personality for all of — what 3 seconds or however long you’re out of breath when you do your interview after you run your race [laughs]?

T&FN: Fair point.

Lyles: So another way of self-expression is fashion and being able to show, “This is what I like, this is how I feel.” Or sometimes, “This is just how I’m feeling in a set moment of time.”

So I’m actually right now in the process of changing my style, you know. I have many styles and I kind of just keep them in a scrapbook. If I want to look this way, I got that. If I wanna look this [other] way, I got that.

But now it’s like, “OK, I want to try something even more new, something I’ve never touched.”

T&FN: Do you draw up your ideas on paper or onscreen?

Lyles: I kind of go through Pinterest or I’ll talk to my stylist, or I’ll be on social media and be looking through TikTok: You know, what is a piece that I like? Or what’s an idea that I want to encompass when I wear something?

T&FN: So you’re not making one particular statement. It’s more where you are at this moment, or what you feel like projecting at this meet or that event?

Lyles: Yeah, I would say that’s definitely more how it is. So, OK, we went to the New Balance Grand Prix [in February], and I’m bringing out all the Prada, the leather, you know. It’s cold outside. I got the gloves on, I got the watch, I’m looking Men In Black, you know?

T&FN: Mm-hmm.

Lyles: And I’m showing up as the dark horse almost, essentially, who when people look at, they’re like, “Who is this guy?” It intrigues you, you want to know more.

Then I go to New York. New York has its own huge fashion machine scene, and I’ve always been paying attention to that. So I’m like, “OK, let me put my New York fashion sense into that — give my own spin, my own tale of that, just being a cool guy who looks like he just knows what he’s doing.”

And then you go to USAs, like, “This is business. We gotta wear suits, man. Yeah. It’s business time.”

T&FN: Is there a great synergy in that for your actual performance on the track? Are you drawing energy from that?

Lyles: The great old saying is, look good, feel good. [laughs] I could say it’s very true.

T&FN: OK. I want to ask you about anime, Japanese animation, often for adults. You are an avowed fan of the form. I’m not an expert on anime but I have a good friend who’s way into it. He’s not into sports at all but I showed him your anime commercial, the adidas Unlimited Charge ad from 2021. He said he thought it was brilliant.

Lyles: I appreciate that. You know, I voice-acted that myself [laughs].

T&FN: I heard your voice in it. Did you storyboard it out with the animators?

Lyles: No, that was adidas’s idea. I kind of just showed up and did the voice acting. But yeah, that was their idea. So I gotta give them their props for that one.

T&FN: Your nemesis in the commercial was “Chita,” a huge, menacing cyborg villain. Did that represent anything in your track & field life?

Lyles: It was like a play on “cheater.”

T&FN: I got that, yeah [laughs]. Chita shouts at you, “Noah Lyles! For 12 years I have reigned supreme. Now you will be my latest victim.”

You are sprinting through a futurescape at night, reminiscent, to me anyway, of Tokyo, and you tell him, “Your time at the top is over. This is my destiny!” Was there any specific relevance to “12 years”?

Lyles: No, I don’t think there really was. They chose that number. I didn’t have anything specifically towards that, but I don’t know. I thought it was pretty cool. I thought their little details were good. I would’ve liked to see even more onto it, but I thought it was pretty good. It was really fun.

T&FN: In the end you wrest the “Speed Stone” from Chita and save “the future of running,” although Chita shouts that you haven’t seen the last of him. Do you think that anime is something that you might do more with in the future? Do you have a story to tell or a message to put out there that you might want to put out in the anime format?

Lyles: Oh, yeah. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an artist. I was gonna be a manga [Japanese comicbook] artist, and anime, and a storyboard designer. But I chose track instead [laughs].

T&FN: Might you give it a go in the future? Is that in the back of your mind at all?

Lyles: I feel that I could be like a creative director for it, but I don’t know if I would be drawing it anymore. You know, I’ve reached the limits on how far my — well, I’m not going to say I’ve reached the limits. It’s just, I haven’t put more work into that craft, and I know that there are people who are better at it than me, but I can definitely tell a story and I know what I want to see from it.

T&FN: Cool, cool. Fair enough. My anime fan friend, like I said, he’s not a sports guy at all, but he told me about one called Run With The Wind. Do you know that one? It apparently has a whole track & field theme to it.

Lyles: Really? I haven’t really heard of that one. [Googles it] I’ve never seen this, but you know what it reminds me of there? Um, gosh, who was it? There was a shoe brand that did do a commercial. I think it might have been Asics, and it was based off of one of Japan’s biggest cross-country events.

So what ends up happening is they basically run up Mount Fuji and back, and these are high schoolers and it’s a relay.

T&FN: Ah, yes, an ekiden relay — very popular in Japan.

Lyles: Yeah, yeah, ekiden. I saw them make an anime out of that and it was amazing. I feel like that one showed the beauty of anime, but then also showed the beauty of the sport. And I was like, “Shoot, can we get more of that?” [laughs]

Mother Keisha Caine Bishop led the family celebration when Lyles won the World Championships 200 last year. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

T&FN: That sounds cool. My friend, he’s a Black man and he wanted me to ask you about your thoughts on people of color in anime. He feels like he’s seeing more people of color and he asked me to ask if you had any thoughts on that?

Lyles: There have definitely been more than previously. And it’s so weird because you look at anime and sometimes you’re like, “Oh, this is obviously based off of the Asian culture.” But then sometimes you’ll look at it and it’s like, “OK, hang on. These Asian people are starting to look really Americanized white.”

And I’m like, “So if they haven’t decided which way they’re going, OK, then why not just include the whole world?”

But as you get more and more into it, yes, they have been starting to put in people of color in. But what I feel is the exciting part of anime is there are tons of animes out there where they’re not even talking about humans. Sometimes humans aren’t even the main characters.

That’s the more fun thing to watch, when you don’t have to guess their race. You’re just watching it because you’re just trying to figure out the story — and it has something cool that you can relate to, but it’s not about race.

T&FN: Variety is a spice in any art form so perhaps this next one may be hard to answer. If you could distill it briefly, what kind of story are you looking for in an anime?

Lyles: It depends on how I’m feeling. Some days I just want to watch an anime about a loser kid who somehow finds himself befriending a bunch of females [laughs] and they get into a lot of wacky stuff. Or sometimes I want to see an overpowered hero that can defeat everybody with a stab of his fingers, but he decides not to because he doesn’t wanna show off this power because he’s afraid of what people might think of him. So he has to contain himself.

And sometimes I just wanna watch somebody go from a zero to a hero. It’s all about what you feel in that time.

T&FN: It would be boring, for sure, to watch the same storyline over and over. Changing topics, I want to ask you about the state of your events. There’s a banner, bunch of sprinters on the scene right now. What do you think about Michael Norman coming down to the 100?

Lyles: What are my thoughts? What’s that got to do with me? [laughs] It’s still the same. It has nothing to do with me. We’re all here to win. It’s not changing any plans.

You could tell me that Bryce Hoppel was coming down to the 100. What does that have to do with me? My plan is not changing. I’m still planning to win.

T&FN: But you know that whatever the sport is, if there are rivalries, or perceived rivalries, the media is always going to play it up. What are your thoughts on that?

Lyles: Oh yeah, you’re right. They are, cuz they’re desperate to find a rivalry. But when there’s a king, you know, there is no rival.

T&FN: In your estimation, are you at this point the king?

Lyles: I’m the king of the 200. I’ve still got a little bit of work — I am the shadow king of the 100.

T&FN: OK. Print it. What should we be watching for over these next three championship seasons, and through LA 2028?

Lyles: Just enjoy the ride. Sometimes not knowing is the most fun thing about track & field. Not knowing what somebody’s gonna do, not trying to predict who’s gonna run what or how the outcome is gonna be, but enjoy the fact that you get to watch something that you know is gonna be special — that when all of us line up on the 100-meter line or the 200-meter line, something amazing is gonna happen. Enjoy that. Enjoy the bliss of not knowing.

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