AS THE DIAMOND LEAGUE season prepares to get underway for real in Monaco on Friday, two of America’s brightest young stars, world champions Donavan Brazier & Noah Lyles, each chatted with media members via Zoom from the haute principality. Having run the gauntlet that is international travel from the pandemic hotspot USA, each independently shared his excitement at getting back to business and making great things happen in a late-summer/fall slate of competitions.
Brazier Ready For An AR?
As brazen as the question may sound, no fan of the 800 will forget that in his last race of ’19 Donavan Brazier roared to an 0.26 improvement on Johnny Gray’s U.S. standard to become his nation’s first 800 world champion in Doha last fall. He dropped his own indoor AR to 1:44.22 at Millrose in February. And then came the coronavirus lockdown.
Brazier, though, certainly has not been sitting down. He explained that Nike coach Pete Julian has “been saying ever since March when things were getting canceled that we can’t take this season as an off season. We can’t take it for granted. We’ve got to at least train, if not compete, as if we’re training for a World Championships or Olympics.”
Brazier has raced as such, also, in the limited comp schedule Julian was able to set for him ahead of the current Euro foray. First on July 3, came a 1.33 improvement on his 1500 best to 3:35.85 for a win by more than 3½ seconds. Next 4 weeks later, the 23-year-old Michigander dropped an outdoor 800 opener of formidable proportion: 1:43.84, the fifth-fastest clocking of his career and a win by nearly 6 seconds. The only-in-COVID-times venue was a high school oval in Newberg, Oregon.
Dang! summed up the mass consensus. Not Brazier’s take. “It was—I don’t want to say disappointing, but it was just kind of I forgot how to run an 800 and it’s like I almost forget how painful it was,” he said. “So I think it was a good tuneup. ’Cause I guess that’s all it was supposed to be, just kind of a rust buster. If you had asked me two years ago if if I’d be disappointed in a 1:43-high, you know, I would say, ‘No, I would never be disappointed in that,’ but I think part of me is just kind of getting really anxious to run. And I think when I got the opportunity to run an 8, I was expecting more out of it than I necessarily got.
“But Pete and I talked about it and he said it was a good result given the situation, given the scenario and just kind of like some random high school track in Oregon. I guess we were pleased with the result after looking back at it.”
The drop in his 1500 best was another matter. “I was way more happy about that, and I think it just showed my strength—especially given that I’m not a high-mileage athlete. I think it gave me a lot of confidence for that 8 because I’m not sacrificing, you know, running 50, 60, 70 miles a week in order to get to that kind of shape. I think me being able to do so with the kind of training that I am doing now and with the training group I’m with now, I think it gives me more confidence for the 8.
“And I think, believe it or not, even with me running 3:35 for the 15, I think I was still in the best 400 shape at the time. So I guess if you put both of them together it just gives me a lot of confidence for the 8.”
Julian said recently he believes Brazier is fitter than he was last season. “I don’t know if I’m in better shape or not,” Brazier said, “because I don’t get my validation off of workouts. You know, I never do too hard of workouts. I think I train hard but I don’t think my training necessarily correlates exactly to the track.
“I think all the validation I get is from racing and I haven’t had that this year. So there’s really no way to prove that I am in actual better shape. Because if I told you my workouts, you would not be impressed at all. I don’t think I do extremely hard workouts.
“I couldn’t keep up with Koko [Klosterhalfen] in a tempo workout. She dropped me in a 10-mile tempo. But I think for [Julian] to say that, obviously he sees something that maybe I don’t, but I just haven’t had that ability to kind of gauge myself because of the lack of races.”
With the others from the World Champs podium—Amiel Tuka and Ferguson Cheruiyot—along with Doha 4th-placer Bryce Hoppel on the Monaco start list, Brazier at last after a half year away will face a world class field. His training plan to sharpen for it? Simplicity. “I think just back off my already low mileage that I have just to make sure I have that quickness there,” he said. “’cause I really can’t build that much more aerobic—I think is what Pete was telling me.
“So just like I said before, I think what builds my validation is just keep racing. So at 1:43.8, the thing that could help me most for the next race is just already running that 1:43.8. So I think that was probably the best thing for me right there, just finally racing again.
“And just to recognize that pain, ’cause I really did kind of forget that 500 to 800 stretch. It’s like, ‘Oh wow, this is a pretty painful event.’”
As Brazier transited Portland–Dallas–London–Nice to reach Monaco, he worried authorities in London might “turn us back around” given the COVID-time European strictures on travelers from the U.S. But as the journey unfolded, he said, “It wasn’t too bad at all.”
Now that he has crossed the pond, he said, “I’d like to have at least three [meets] while I’m here. So I think we have Monaco lined up, Budapest lined up and Stockholm, the other Diamond League, lined up, but if things are going well, I wouldn’t mind staying over here. I think it’s a lot safer to be over here than it is back in America right now. So I wouldn’t mind spending as much time as I can over in Europe if I can get races in. I still feel fresh.
“You know, I think most athletes here feel fresh because we haven’t really been racing that much. So right now it’s three for sure. But you know, if opportunity presents itself, I would go into mid- to late-September racing.”
Lyles Targeting Monaco
For more than a month Noah Lyles has had his sights trained on Monaco, although there is also a 100 in Budapest on his schedule.
“Just because there’s no Olympics doesn’t mean I don’t want to run,” said the adidas-sponsored sprinter whose 19.50 clocking last summer made him the fastest half-lap man on earth since 2012. “And of course at the end of the day, I like to get paid. So if they put a 200 together, a great track and flying over they’re making sure that everybody’s safe, I’m willing to go.” Particularly to Monaco.
“We’re definitely peaking for this meet,” he said. “After the Inspiration Games I told coach [Lance Brauman] I want to run fast at this meeting. I want to like run really fast.’ So he was like, ‘Alright, I’m gonna train you through everything from here on.’ Then I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’
“So we got to work, you know. We started doing a lot of 200 workouts, started doing a lot of block work, to make sure that whatever happens [here] I’ll be ready. So I’m really excited about this meet. Especially since they just relaid the surface and I’ve already had a PB here before [the 19.65 he sped on Stade Louis II’s oval back in ’18]. So I’m pretty excited.”
The Inspiration Games, of course, was the Zürich DL’s inspired use of technology on July 9 to pit athletes in transcontinental virtual races. The effort’s one failure was low tech and redounded to Lyles’ chagrin. In a last minute decision, his solo 200 start was moved across the track and—d’oh!—Lyles’s blocks were set up in the wrong lane.
When TV commentator Ato Boldon, flush with skepticism, approached and showed Lyles his 18.90 mark (with -3.7 wind) both had a good chuckle. “Ato came up to me and he was like, ‘That’s the time,’” Lyles recalled. “I was like, ‘That’s not the time.’ It was impossible. I just ran into a 3.7 wind. There’s no way that can be the time. I don’t think anybody’s that fast. So I knew there was something wrong as soon as I saw it.”
Lyles—though the blocks placement error was not his—doubled down on making things right in August. Over two late-July days on his home track in Clermont, Florida, he dashed 9.93 with a 2.3 wind, 10.04 and 19.94. In light of his training load at the time, Lyles drew confidence from the 200 time.
“It was a tough race,” he said. “I had been training for two weeks [since The Inspiration Games] and Coach had been pounding me. We were really getting after it. And I think a few days before that—what was it, that Tuesday?—we were doing [flying?] 60s and I had run like a 6.05. So I was burnt out on energy. And Coach was like, ‘Yeah, you gotta run the 100 and the 200 [this weekend].’
“I’m like, ‘This guy’s trying to kill me.’ So when I actually woke up that day, I was thinking about actually calling Coach and be like, ‘Yeah, my body’s kind of tired. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get through this day.’ Well, I was just thinking, ‘No way. I’ll just go through the motions. If it happens, it happens, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.’
“So I was really kind of just working on staying composed during the race, hitting what I need to do, going through positions. I knew my legs were tired, but the fact that I ran 19.9 that day, actually, I was pretty happy with that because I had so much training on my legs and I knew what we were preparing for, which was Monaco.”
Lyles—who this summer also went public on mental health and his decision in the spring to take prescribed anti-depressant medication—enjoyed a familial breakthrough at the Clermont meet. His year-younger brother Josephus put up a 45.40/20.24 two-day 400/200 double, fast enough to gain a lane for himself in the Monaco furlong.
“It’s really come down to, this is the season that will prepare you for next season,” Lyles said. “Now that we don’t have the Olympics, this is when we can work on our weaknesses. This is when we can get stronger. This has put a lot of people in good positions.
“It’s put my brother in a really good position where now he can come out and he can get into these meets that he probably wasn’t able to get into. He’s able to PR and now that he’s PRing, he’s able to get into Diamond Leagues and he’s coming in as you know, the second-fastest time right behind his big bro. This has been a really good time for us to work on things that we wouldn’t be able to get to.”
Lyles revealed he opened up about his struggles with depression after granting a long interview to the BBC which then, at least in its social media release, essentially cut it down to just Lyles’s comments on Christian Coleman’s renewed whereabouts problems.
Said Lyles, “ I remember looking at it on the social media and all I saw was half an interview worth of me talking about Christian Coleman—when we only talked about that for one minute out of a 20-minute, a 30-minute, interview.
“And we had a lot of talking points in that interview, going into the Black Lives Matter movement, going to mental health, going into how I’m handling COVID , how I’m dealing with having my family doing well right now, and what races we’re doing.
“And then to see somebody, who’s not me on the space of an interview that I did, I was like, ‘Well, if they’re not going to do it, I’m going to start talking about it. I don’t need somebody else to tell my story. I can tell my own story.’
“And I’m glad I did because I’ve had a ton of people get back to me and they’re like, ‘This is really inspiring.’ It’s helped them in times of need, especially now that everybody’s kind of forced to deal with what they have to deal with because they can’t go out and be distracted by whatever’s going on in life. They have to face it now.”
Advice to readers: One thing you’ll want to face on Friday is the Monaco Diamond League broadcast. Check your local listings or in the USA the nbcsports.com/gold stream. Friday, August 14, at 2pm Eastern.