DES MOINES, Iowa – Noah Lyles’ goal is simple: to be remembered.
Lyles sets out to be remembered on the track and off – for his speed, his personality and his look.
For someone just 22 years old and who has not yet competed at an Olympic Games or world championships, Lyles’ ability to accomplish all three has been impressive.
His latest feat was winning the men’s 200-meter title Sunday night at the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
He did so with silver in his hair – inspired by a Dragon Ball Z character – and with a pre-race Conor McGregor-esque ‘rubber arms’ routine and a post-race Kevin Durant dance.
“Who wants to be the same as everybody else?” Lyles said. “Who wants to be forgotten as just that guy who was fast? When I leave, people are going to remember me as not just being fast but for all the things that I left behind while doing it.”
And indeed he is fast. His time of 19.78 seconds – the fastest ever run at Drake Stadium – was 0.24 faster than runner-up Christian Coleman, the 2017 world silver medalist in the 100 who won the U.S. title at that distance on Friday. Ameer Webb was third at 20.45 seconds, though Rodney Rowe, who was seventh at 20.75, will make the world championships team as he was the third-placed athlete who had the worlds standard.
“It feels amazing, I ain’t gonna lie,” Lyles said of the win. “There’s a lot of things I wanted to happen this year, and this was one of the highest on the list.”
This is the Florida native’s first U.S. title in the 200. Last year he won the 100 as the youngest champion in 34 years. He also has nine Diamond League wins to his name.
Though he chose to focus solely on the 200 at this meet and for worlds, he has raced both distances on the Diamond League circuit this season and plans to run both at the Diamond League finals.
In May, Lyles ran the second-fastest time in the world this year in the 100 at 9.86, and in July he became the fourth-fastest 200-meter runner in history with a time of 19.50 seconds.
He is perhaps the most successful track athlete out there without an Olympic or worlds appearance to his credit.
Lyles’ only global championships to date is the Summer Youth Olympic Games Nanjing 2014, where he won gold in the 200 at age 17.
Two years later, he finished fourth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field and missed out on the Olympic team by 0.09 seconds.
The following year, he ranked fourth in the 200 heats at U.S. outdoor championships but then had to drop out with a hamstring injury.
When speaking to reporters Sunday after earning a spot on his first world team, Lyles recalled watching the 2017 final from the recovery room at that meet, thinking, “I could’ve done that.”
“I told my mom in 2017 we pulled out of the 200 for a reason, and today God told me that reason is now,” Lyles said. “I didn’t know what the plan was but today he told me this is the day that your plan comes to action.”
Lyles focuses solely on himself – to the point of not realizing Kenny Bednarek pulled up in the lane next to him during Sunday's final – and does not think twice about who he beats in his races or the time in which he does it.
“All I care about is the win,” he said. “Does my name say I won? That’s all I care about.”
And doing it in style, of course.
As the athletes lined up for the 200-meter final, the broadcast showed a side-by-side of Lyles and Dragon Ball Z’s Goku, after whom he modeled his hair. Lyles was thrilled to hear about it afterwards and know his interests are starting to show.
His hair isn’t dyed so more people are exposed to anime, though. It’s to stand out.
“I don’t want to be like everybody else. I grew my hair out because last year I looked up on the 100 line and I was like, you all look like me with this short hair, so I decided to grow it out,” he explained.
“Then I realized everybody got long hair, so I colored my hair to be different. Now all reporters here can ask me about is my hair, so that right there is an exciting moment. It gets people more interested; it points me out. Everybody now knows that guy who like anime, who colors his hair, who does cool dances. Everybody asks what am I going to do for my next dance. That is what I want to do, I want to distinguish myself as somebody different.”
To continue to distinguish himself on the track, Lyles will aim to become the youngest 200-meter world champion come September in Doha, Qatar.
“I know I have the time to do it, it’s just my first time going after it, so I want to make sure this one goes as smoothly as possible,” Lyles said. “This is the hardest team to make, so the saying is once you make the U.S. team you better come away with a medal.”