DES MOINES, Iowa -- Noah Lyles was in disbelief in the media mixed zone when a reporter asked him how it felt to have the world-leading times in both the 100- and 200-meter.
“I hadn’t registered that yet. Now that you said that I just registered it. That’s actually pretty cool,” Lyles said in a high-pitched voice before pausing and shrieking. “Oh my god!”
Imagine the reaction if someone told the 20-year-old that he had just become the youngest U.S. men’s 100-meter champion in 34 years.
Lyles came from behind to claim the 100-meter title in a blistering 9.88 seconds. Not only did he beat his own personal best in the 100 by five hundredths and set a Drake Stadium record, but he ran the fastest time in the world this year. In the first round of the 100 on Wednesday, Mike Rodgers set the world lead at 9.89 seconds, which tied the stadium record.
“I’ve been doing it so long it’s almost a natural thing for me to feel like I’m coming from behind,” Lyles said of the race. “I know I have nothing to worry about, just stay calm, hit positions. Coach said, ‘Go all out.’ I already know my body is doing what it needs to do, so if I let it do it I’m gonna catch him, and if I don’t, I know my body gave 100 (percent) and that’s good enough for me.”
He had to catch 24-year-old Texas Christian University graduate Ronnie Baker, who won both Diamond Leagues 100s held so far this season and was the favorite to win the final. Baker finished just behind Lyles at 9.89, with 22-year-old Kendal Williams third in 10.00.
The last 20-year-old to win the 100 was Sam Graddy, who later that summer went on to win the 1984 Olympic silver medal at that distance.
The Alexandria, Virginia, native is known for being a 200-meter specialist and is undefeated at that distance on the Diamond League circuit, having won all four races he has entered between this season and last.
He tied the 200-meter world-leading mark of 19.69 seconds in late May at the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League meet.
“People just assume I’m a 200-meter specialist. I’m both!” Lyles exclaimed. “Don’t get me wrong – I love the 200, I love it, but I also love a few 100s, too.”
Between the pure joy he showed upon crossing the finish line and his victory dance that followed, Lyles’ infectious reaction was felt around the stadium and by TV viewers at home.
“It was a combination of the time and the win,” he said of his excitement. “I didn’t think my first USATF championship was going to be a 100 championship, I always thought it would be a 200. To come out here and win the 100 it made me very happy because I’ve proven that I’m not just a 200 runner and that I’m out here with the big dogs and trying to be just as great as them.”
As for that crazy dance, Lyles knows it from the popular survival game “Fortnite.”
“I don’t know the name of it, but everybody does it. It’s from the song ‘Shoot,’” he explained. “It’s another dance from Fortnite, but they’ve been doing it since before Fortnite. It’s just a silly dance.”
He said he plans his dance moves for track meets weeks ahead of time, and also plans his race “theme” well in advance as well.
This week’s theme? “The Incredibles.”
He raced in socks from the movie franchise.
“(‘The Incredibles’ is) always motivation,” Lyles said. “I love my themes; this is definitely going to go down as one of my favorites. My themes are all my loves and passions outside of track, so just trying to bring a little of that energy out.”
Lyles’ victory at Drake Stadium highlighted the second night of the 2018 USATF Outdoor Championships. The event is part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Xfinity, which showcases numerous Olympic sports throughout the season, highlighting the year-round quest of Team USA athletes to compete at the Olympic Games.
Lyles’ story fits that theme to a T. He burst onto the scene at 16 years old when he won 200-meter gold at the Summer Youth Olympic Games Nanjing 2014.
Two years later, inspired by his performance in China and trying to make his first Olympic team, Lyles was fast enough to snap the high school record but just missed a spot on the Olympic team, finishing fourth in the 200 at Olympic Trials. Later that month he won the 100-meter and 4x100-meter titles at the world junior championships.
After turning pro at age 19, Lyles is looking like a strong contender for a spot on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team – and now in two distances.
“I definitely like doing both,” he said. “I feel that doing one event gets tedious, so sometimes you need to switch them out, work on something different, and focusing on my 100 helps me work on my start. You can have a little bit of a bad start in the 200 and still pull it out, but you can’t get away with horrible starts in the 100.”
And the track world likely hasn’t seen the last of Lyles’ record-setting times. Up next? Continuing to lower his 200 time.
“Truthfully, in my head, in the 200 I feel like I can go 19.4 this year. I have to see if it happens, but this definitely gives me more confidence going into it and I’m really excited. I’ve kind of been cheating on it, it’s time to go back to my baby.”