BOSTON -- The signing of a professional contract by then-high school senior Noah Lyles stirred up some controversy, replete with the usual social media critics on both sides.
World-class sprinting requires razor-sharp focus and a maturation of technique, leading some to question the recent spate of signings of prep stars.
But Lyles, in a narrow timeframe, has razed said narrative in spectacular fashion, posting a splendid body of work on the oval.
The 2014 Youth Olympic champion in the 200-meter and 2016 junior world champ at 100 meters, Lyles is now a 20-year-old who is unbeaten in Diamond League races, having won all three 200s he has entered between this season and last.
A native of Gainesville, Florida, Lyles is undeniably relishing his decision to turn pro, and even casual observers of track and field are taking notice.
“When I was in high school I used to watch the Diamond League meets and think to myself, ‘I’m fast enough to be in there,’” he said, prior to the 2018 adidas Boost Boston Games where he competed at the non-traditional 150 meters. “And now I feel that I’m proving myself right that I’m there and actually winning and running fast times. I didn’t think it was impossible, that a dream I had a few years back is now coming true.”
The Lyles family transitioned to Alexandria, Virginia, where Noah eventually found his way to the squad at T.C. Williams High School.
Lyles was one of two high-schoolers to make the 200-meter final at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field, where he snapped the previous high school record while just missing out on the Olympic team, placing fourth.
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Currently with the third-fastest time in the world in the 200 this season, Lyles acknowledges the learning curve ahead of him.
“There are a lot of things going on — I’m trying to work on my start and my stride pattern a little bit, but overall I think my races just come together because of our strong race strategy, which truthfully is only going to get better because I have much more to work on,” he said, adding, “I try and treat every meet the same actually, I’m there to create an exciting time and hopefully put on a show for the fans, anything I can do to enjoy the moment.”
Lyles hardly began his athletic career with the sprints in mind.
“We (with his older brother and fellow pro sprinter, Josephus) probably did every other sport before beginning track and field, and even when we got there, I started out as a high jumper. Sprinting was the last thing I did in any of my sports,” Lyles said.
His latest efforts resulted in a meet record at the recent Boost Boston Games: a crisp 14.77 seconds clocking over 150 meters on the straightaway, prompting speculation on both his immediate as well as long-term plans.
“I feel excited and ready to go for the rest of the season. I have (the Prefontaine Classic) next, then I’ll be headed to (the USATF Outdoor Championships), and after that I’ll be going to Europe for meets on the (Diamond League) circuit,” he said.
As for his long-term plans…
“I think it’s so crazy that I get comments on my Instagram that say ‘Tokyo 2020’ with a question mark,” said Lyles.
“No, I think I’m just going to watch from my TV,” he said playfully. “Of course I want to go and compete. I think it’s a natural process. Making sure I’m healthy is probably the biggest thing I’ll have to worry about. I try and do my best while I still have control at home, putting the right things in place before I travel overseas, where I’ll have a lot less control.”
Undoubtedly, Lyles is embracing the spotlight that will likely be focused on him for years to come.
“I’m loving the ride. I wake up every morning and say ‘My gosh, I’m a pro athlete at 20 years old.’ It’s really a dream,” he said.
Ken Castro is a reporter from Connecticut. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.