Noah Lyles races his first 200m of the season on Thursday, but he actually clocked the slowest 200 meters of his career on Easter.
“Definitely the slowest,” Lyles confirmed, “and it was hot that day.”
Lyles and younger brother/fellow sprinter Josephus were passengers when their mom, Keisha Caine Bishop, pulled the car over suddenly on April 21. She stopped because a woman was pushing her blue Volkswagen along the road near Lyles’ home in Clermont, Fla.
“Without question, my guys, along with another guy, jumped out and pushed her car to the gas station,” she tweeted. “Yes, I’m a proud mom!”
Lyles estimated the nearest gas station was about 200 meters away. He is somewhat familiar with the distance.
“Luckily we were on a hill, so we were able to give it a push, and the hill was able to do most of the work,” he said. Lyles’ new dress shoes were damaged, but it was worth it.
Lyles covers 200m on a competition track for the first time this season at a Diamond League meet in Rome on Thursday (preview/TV schedule here). He will race fellow 21-year-old Michael Norman, a longtime friendly rival who has never beaten Lyles.
“Roomed together on world junior team,” Lyles said. “Mike’s one of the kindest people you’ll meet out there.”
Lyles’ rival in the more traditional sense is Christian Coleman. Lyles, whose focus is the 200m, won a head-to-head (barely) in Coleman’s best event, the 100m, in Shanghai on May 18: 9.852 seconds to 9.858.
Lyles, who set a personal best in that international season opener, then said on Instagram that it was the start of his legacy as a 100m and 200m sprinter. Coleman followed that with tweets that stoked the new rivalry.
“Some of y’all got the game messed up,” tweeted Coleman, the world’s fastest 100m sprinter since the Rio Olympics at 9.79. “The name of the game is World medals. But PRin in May is cool for social media doe.
“Seems as if some people are confused,” Coleman tweeted the next day. “It’s nothing wrong with a PR. But if your goal is to run fast in May to taunt and flex online then your priorities aren’t straight imo. The season is just getting started.”
Lyles was asked to describe his relationship with the 23-year-old Coleman, whom he has faced since junior competition in 2015.
“It’s not good,” he said, followed by a short laugh. “I don’t know man. He just never liked me. I don’t know. You can’t like everybody. It’s not the same as me and Mike.”
Neither sprinter previously commented publicly on the post-Shanghai tweets from Coleman and his girlfriend: “Someone gets an inch, or a win by .006 & they take a mile,” University of Georgia sprinter Micaiah Ransby posted before Coleman’s tweets.
“I like it,” Lyles said of the whole situation. “We talk about it a lot in the track world: there needs to be more rivalries. There needs to be more talk. It gets more exciting when people start talking. ‘Oh man, Noah won’t get away with it next time,’ or such and such. It makes me excited. It makes me think that people are actually paying attention to the sport.”
As for Coleman’s specific opinions?
“He’s right,” Lyles said. “It doesn’t matter until worlds [in Doha in September]. But I’ll definitely be ready for worlds to get that gold in the 200m.”
Lyles added that hearing Coleman wants to challenge him in the 200m this season was “the best news I’ve heard all year, to be honest.”
As for the 100m, Lyles repeated Wednesday that he will not race the shorter sprint at July’s USATF Outdoor Championships nor at worlds.
“Until I see something in the 100m that is very definitive of, I can walk away with a [world championships 100m] medal and still be able to get away with a gold in the 200m, it’s going to be the 200m in Doha right now,” Lyles told a press conference in Rome.
Lyles, speaking by phone after that presser, was told that only one man has run faster than his 9.86 since the Rio Olympics (Coleman), and that Lyles just beat him two weeks ago. Is that not definitive enough?
“No,” he said. “I need to know that I can run three rounds of the 100m at 9.8 or faster [the format at nationals and worlds, but not at Diamond League meets] and then still be able to come back the next day and run three rounds of the 200m. Until I can see that, I don’t think there’s too much of a reason this year to do it. Sacrificing a gold medal to maybe get two silvers or a silver and a gold, I feel that it’s very risky. It’s a lot easier just to get the gold and be known going into the 200m as the ultimate world champ.
“The biggest idea with only doing the 200m is we [Lyles and coach Lance Brauman] want to go in [to the Olympics] being known already as having a gold.”
Lyles said he hopes to race the 100m at least two more times this season — a Diamond League stop in Monaco on July 12 and another to-be-announced meet. It’s not known if Coleman will be there. Coleman’s reps haven’t replied to an interview request to respond to Lyles’ first public comments on the rivalry.
Lyles is approaching two years since perhaps the toughest moment of his young career. Three years ago, he finished fourth at the Olympic trials 200m, which normally upsets an athlete, as the top three make the team. But at age 18, Lyles beamed for he broke the national high school record. He turned pro two weeks later.
Then came 2017. Lyles announced his professional arrival with a 19.90-second 200m, also in Shanghai, that May 13. He became the fourth teen to break 20 seconds in the half-lap, and the first American. But he also felt his hamstring cramp 15 or 20 meters into that victory. He flew to Germany, where a doctor told him it was a two-centimeter tear.
Lyles remembers crying and the psychological pain of nationals the next month, when he withdrew before the 200m semifinals because of the hamstring. That meant no worlds that summer. He would have to wait another two years for the next global championship.
“I knew if I ran, something would have popped, torn. I wasn’t ready to have my career end as soon as it started,” he said. “It was definitely a hard decision … I just knew that I was going to win. It’s so hard to see your goal right in front of your face and then have to turn around and say, I’ll come back for it another time. It’s like seeing your dream car and you know you have the money to buy it and then you get a call saying your mom needs surgery, and you’re the only person who can help. You know what the right thing to do is.”
He watched the August 2017 World Championships from his Florida home, then beat Turkey’s surprise world champion Ramil Guliyev at the Diamond League final three weeks later. Guliyev is in Thursday’s field, too, looking for his first win over Lyles in their sixth meeting.
Lyles is undefeated in outdoor 200m races since the 2016 Olympic trials. Last year, he joined Usain Bolt as the only men to break 19.7 in the 200m on four occasions in one season. Nobody else has broken 19.8 more than once in this Olympic cycle.
It’s clear that Lyles has an interest in speed, in addition to his drawing, rapping and sock designing. He recently bought that dream car, a white 2019 BMW i8 roadster.
“I think I hit 100 [miles per hour] once in the back roads,” he said.
His goal time in the 200m this season? “Just to get as close as I can to the world record,” Lyles said. His personal best is 19.65. Bolt’s world record is 19.19.
“The 100m in Shanghai was kind of like a shock on time for me,” Lyles said of that personal best. “Now I’ve got a ton of confidence going into the 200m. You know, I might be trying to shock the world again.”
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