In 2016 high school sprinter Noah Lyles broke historic records, won global gold medals and pushed some of the world’s best to the limit. The teenage sensation talks to Ato Boldon for the latest episode of IAAF Inside Athletics.
Elite competition doesn’t faze US high school sprint phenom Noah Lyles. “I don’t really put people on pedestals,” the now 19-year-old tells Ato Boldon of lining up at his debut US Olympic Trials in July. “Because if you’re putting people on pedestals, how are you gonna face them?”
It’s an approach Boldon can’t argue with – because it worked. Lyles, aged just 18, gave the US sprinting old guard a run for their money when he finished fourth in the 200m final at Trials in 20.09, breaking the 31-year-old American high school record and missing out on a ticket to the Rio Olympics by just 0.09 seconds. The goal Lyles had set himself four years ago while watching the London 2012 Opening Ceremony with his brother – to make the Olympic team for Rio – proved a stretch too far. For now.
“I had a goal. Now we’re at the end of this goal,” he says flatly. “You don’t want it to end, but you’ve gotta end it because you’ve gotta get on with the next part of your life.”
True to that philosophy, Lyles swiftly shifted his focus to another global championship: the World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz. He arrived in Poland with a target on his back but showed no weakness.
He delivered convincingly, taking the 100m sprint crown in 10.17. Two days later he signed a professional deal with adidas. A second gold medal followed the next day in the 4x100m relay.
Yet Lyles’ ambitions at the start of the season were even bigger than the heights he hit. “My time [targets] are pretty high,” he insists. “I like to keep them high so I don’t get bored in the middle of the season.”
Reflecting on an eventful 2016, Lyles admits despite coming from a track and field family, he “didn’t understand all the things that needed to go into making the trials” such as being surrounded by the right people and “having the right mindset”. Coping with external challenges was another thing he had to learn to deal with.
“Our training got messed up a lot,” he recalls of his unconventional start to the season. “My coach got into a car accident, so we had a long break. My brother got injured, so we were focusing on that a lot through the year. And I was graduating high school, so I had all these other influences.
“Our biggest goal was to try and keep training through all of it, but some things definitely got in the way.”
Given all that, his achievements in the past year are all the more impressive. It might be others putting him on a pedestal in the future.
Watch the full episode to hear Lyles talk about his beginnings in the sport, sibling rivalry and the high jump.