Noah Lyles: I will win 3 gold medals at Tokyo Olympics

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Noah Lyles is counting down the days until he can kick back and read comic books, record some music he’s written, spend money on fashionable clothes and do whatever other non-track things come to mind.

The home screen on the American sprinter’s phone already tells him it’s about that time: “ I am the 2019 200 world champion” greets him when he glances down. But there’s one more event for him at the world championships _ the 4×100 relay _ before a four-week break to slow down.

Then, a new mantra will appear on his phone for him to stare at: Win the 100m and 200m at the Tokyo Olympics.

He wants to live up to the one-word tattoo written across his rib cage — “ICON.”

His win in the 200m at worlds started him on the path. His success in Tokyo would only serve to send the 22-year-old even further on his way.

“They are going to say I’m an icon,” Lyles confidently proclaimed in an interview with The Associated Press.

With no Usain Bolt around, Lyles is being trumpeted as the next big thing in track and field. Mention it to him, though, and he rolls his eyes. He knows track is searching for another superstar and he’s happy to help fill the role. But it will happen on his time, not anyone else’s schedule. It’s why he didn’t run the 100m at worlds this season.

He’s taking things slow to be fast.

“If you want to see me do great things, you have to let me do it the way I have to do it,” said Lyles, who signed long-term deal with Adidas in 2016.

MORE: Bolt Instagram story appears to jab at Lyles after world 200m title

Some of his biggest rivals are U.S. teammate Christian Coleman along with Andre De Grasse of Canada. Like Lyles, they plan to run the 100m-200m at the Tokyo Games. Coleman won the 100m at worlds before skipping the 200m, while De Grasse finished behind Lyles in the 200m and earned a bronze in the 100m.

At the top of Lyles’ to-do list in the offseason will be to improve his starts. He can get away with a slower initial burst in the 200m — he runs such a smooth, tight curve — but not so much in the 100m. He’s going to back to the drawing board.

“People underestimate how hard it is to change a start,” Lyles said. “There are so many quick movements in a start and there are probably a list of 10 things that you have to make sure you’re doing to make sure it’s good. But in your mind, you can only focus on maybe one — two at the most. It comes down to muscle memory.”

Check back on his progress in, say, a month or so.

Because soon he will be on vacation mode. He’s looking forward to really doing nothing. Maybe a trip to Bermuda and then working on another hip-hop album (he’s written numerous songs over a long season). He will definitely read some comic books, watch some anime movies and build things with Legos (anything with a “Star Wars” theme.)

Shopping trips are on his agenda, too. He’s into high-end fashion these days, with boots, jackets and rings catching his eye.

It keeps him motivated to keep on winning.

“Luckily, I have been funding my (shopping) habit by winning races,” Lyles cracked. “But that bill adds up quickly. I had to stop myself in July from buying clothes for about three months so I could say I don’t have a problem.”

He has no problem being an entertainer. He loves the spotlight, which is good since he’s in it so much. He won a national title at 200m in July by holding off Coleman.

“I like to have fun,” said Lyles, who was born in Gainesville, Fla., and went to high school in Alexandria, Va. “I enjoy what I do, and I want people to enjoy watching.”

He’s setting lofty plans for Tokyo — not one, not two, but three gold medals (counting the 4x100m relay).

“You might think that’s crazy with Christian out there, and he’s putting down some good times,” Lyles said. “There’s nothing in my mind that says I can’t get on the line and do the same thing. I’m going to get three golds. I keep saying that to myself.”

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IOC looks for ways Russian athletes ‘who do not support war’ could compete as neutrals

Thomas Bach
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GENEVA (AP) — Russian athletes who do not endorse their country’s war in Ukraine could be accepted back into international sports, competing under a neutral flag, IOC president Thomas Bach said in an interview published Friday.

“It’s about having athletes with a Russian passport who do not support the war back in competition,” Bach told Italian daily Corriere della Sera, adding, “We have to think about the future.”

Most sports followed IOC advice in February and banned Russian teams and athletes from their events within days of the country’s military invasion of Ukraine.

With Russians starting to miss events that feed into qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympics, an exile extending into next year could effectively become a wider ban from those Games.

In an interview in Rome, Bach hinted at IOC thinking after recent rounds of calls with Olympic stakeholders asked for views on Russia’s pathway back from pariah status.

“To be clear, it is not about necessarily having Russia back,” he said. “On the other hand — and here comes our dilemma — this war has not been started by the Russian athletes.”

Bach did not suggest how athletes could express opposition to the war when dissent and criticism of the Russian military risks jail sentences of several years.

Some Russian athletes publicly supported the war in March and are serving bans imposed by their sport’s governing body.

Olympic gold medalist swimmer Yevgeny Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally attended by Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Gymnast Ivan Kuliak displayed a pro-military “Z” symbol on his uniform at an international event.

Russian former international athletes are being called up for military service in the current mobilization, according to media reports. They include former heavyweight boxing champion Nikolai Valuev and soccer player Diniyar Bilyaletdinov.

Russians have continued to compete during the war as individuals in tennis and cycling, without national symbols such as flags and anthems, even when teams have been banned.

Bach told Corriere della Sera it was the IOC’s mission to be politically neutral and “to have the Olympic Games, and to have sport in general, as something that still unifies people and humanity.”

“For all these reasons, we are in a real dilemma at this moment with regard to the Russian invasion in Ukraine,” he suggested. “We also have to see, and to study, to monitor, how and when we can come back to accomplish our mission to have everybody back again, under which format whatsoever.”

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How did U.S. women’s basketball replace its legends? It starts with Alyssa Thomas.

Alyssa Thomas
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If this FIBA World Cup marks the beginning of a new era of U.S. women’s basketball, it is notable, if not remarkable, that no player has been more visible than Alyssa Thomas.

Thomas is making her global championship debut in Sydney. She is the only woman on the team in her 30s. Rarely, if ever, has a player who waited this long to put on a U.S. uniform made such an impact out of the gate. Certainly not since the last major tournament in Australia, when 30-year-old Yolanda Griffith starred at the 2000 Olympics.

Over the last week, Thomas leads the U.S. in minutes played and is one of two players to start all seven games along with Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP. She ranks fourth on the team in scoring (10.6 points per game), is tied for second in rebounding (6.7), second in assists (4.6) and first in steals (2.7).

The Americans, with their new breakthrough power forward, face China in Saturday’s final, seeking a fourth consecutive world title and 60th consecutive victory between Olympic and world championship play dating to 2006.

“She takes a lot of pressure off of us,” two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson said after Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in a quarterfinal win over Serbia. “I think she’s the glue of this team, the X-factor of this team, because that’s her game and that’s her style.”

Thomas earned the nickname “Baby Bron Bron” at the University of Maryland for her LeBron James-like play. USA Basketball took notice in 2013, when she was one of six collegians named to a 33-player national team training camp.

But that participation was the last of Thomas’ bullet points on her USA Basketball bio for another nine years, until she was named to the FIBA World Cup qualifying team last February.

Thomas had to wait her turn.

The U.S. was loaded in the frontcourt in the 2010s with more established players — Candace ParkerTina CharlesSylvia FowlesBrittney GrinerElena Delle Donne — and then Stewart and Wilson came along, becoming arguably the two most valuable Americans in the last Olympic cycle.

Thomas produced, to that point, the best WNBA season of her career in 2020, but tore an Achilles playing overseas in January 2021, ruling out any chance of making the Tokyo Olympic team. (Thomas was not in the 36-player national team pool at the time of her injury.)

The combination of players’ absences this year — Charles, after three Olympic golds, ceded to younger players, Fowles retired and Griner is being detained in Russia — and Cheryl Reeve becoming head coach created an opportunity.

Thomas seized it, leading the Connecticut Sun to the WNBA Finals, where she recorded triple-doubles in the last two games of a series loss to the Las Vegas Aces. Then she boarded a plane to Sydney for her first major international experience and has similarly flourished.

Jennifer Rizzotti, part of the USA Basketball selection committee, said the 6-foot-2 Thomas combines the movement of Lindsay Whalen, the passing of Parker and the physicality of Rebekkah Brunson. She plays with labrum tears in each shoulder. There’s no single player like her.

“There’s definitely some post players that have that point forward mentality, but not quite with the guard skills that Alyssa has,” Rizzotti said. “I don’t see anybody, including guards, that can do what she does in the open court. Then you talk about how disruptive she is defensively and her ability to guard one through five. A’ja can guard one through five, Stewie can guard one through five, but nobody’s as disruptive as Alyssa is. On the perimeter and off the ball.”

Thomas also fit what Reeve, who succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, was looking for in retooling the roster following the retirement of Sue Bird and possible end of Diana Taurasi‘s national team career at age 40.

“[Reeve] made it clear that she was hoping with the guard turnover that we would be able to play faster, more athletically, more possessions in the game,” Rizzotti said. “And therefore, she wanted to have post players that could push tempo, that could facilitate and kind of fit in with a ball-handling, passing mentality from the trail spot.”

Still, Thomas did not expect to be putting on a USA jersey this year. “Shocked” is the word USA Basketball chose to describe her reaction to making this team.

“It was kind of a surprise,” she said, according to USA Basketball. “I had just really taken my name out of it.”

Rizzotti said Thomas is an example — a very successful one, it turns out — of an asset in the eyes of the selection committee: patience.

“I think a lot of players feel like if they don’t make the USA national team right away, it’s never going to happen,” she said. “You get the comments like, oh, it’s political, or they keep inviting the same guys back. And it’s not true.”

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