Noah Lyles celebrates gold at the 17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 on Oct. 5, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.
Each Tuesday leading up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, which will be held in the summer of 2021, TeamUSA.org will introduce you to an athlete you should know prior to Tokyo – as part of the “Tokyo Tuesday” series. There’s a lot to learn on your quest to becoming the ultimate fan. Follow along on social media with the hashtag #TokyoTuesday.
Noah Lyles isn’t supposed to be in Florida.
The reigning world champion in the 200-meter is supposed to be in Tokyo, on the verge of unleashing his ludicrous speed on the track for all the world to see in his Olympic debut. In the vision of 2020 that existed up until several months ago, there would soon be medals, likely gold, and podiums, and major talk show appearances and discussions of the greatest American sprinters and his place among them.
Instead, the 23-year-old’s biggest event of the past few months was the high-tech virtual Inspiration Games, held in place of the Zurich Diamond League in early July. A not-so-high-tech gaffe ruined that: Racing by himself in Bradenton, Florida, Lyles appeared to shatter Usain Bolt’s world record in the 200-meter only to learn shortly after that officials started him in the wrong lane and he ran only 185 meters.
TeamUSA.org recently caught up with Lyles, now preparing to run an actual, in-person 200-meter race at the Diamond League event in Monaco on Aug. 14, for this week’s installment of Tokyo Tuesday. From his earliest memories of blowing away the competition to how he was into face masks before face masks were a thing, check out the whole conversation below:
What do you remember about your very first race?
The very first race I ever did? Let me see, I was in North Carolina, I was part of the Sugar Creek track club, I think I was, like, 9? Eight or 9? And my dad was my coach, and I remember running the race and I was like, that was too easy. That wasn’t that fun. I thought it would be harder. So it turns out that I was in, kind of like a church league, so the competition was not that high, so I actually was like you know what? I’m just going to go back to basketball and play that.
What’s the greatest race you ever saw that you were not a part of?
The 2012 Olympic (100-meter) finals. I mean, you just have every heavy hitter you can think of in that race and nobody ran slow. You had to be on and popping. Everybody in there was just like, dang, I don’t have to worry about just one or two guys; I have to worry about everybody in the lineup.
And out of the races you have been a part of, do you have a favorite?
I don’t think I have favorites anymore. They’re all fun in their own sense, you know? Some of them have shocking factors to them or sometimes I was more excited to go into a race than others, but each one has its own identity in a sense.
If you could race against anyone from any time period, who would it be?
I guess I always wanted to take my shot at Bolt.
Is there an athlete you haven’t met that you’d like to meet?
Hmm, I wouldn’t mind meeting LeBron (James). I wouldn’t have a problem with that. I’ve got a lot of respect for what he does on and off the court. I like the way he handles himself, the way he carries himself, how he works with his family, how he handles his business. I definitely have a lot of respect for what he does.
Do you have any pre-race rituals or routines?
I’ve got my playlist that I listen to for every race. I always have some type of different socks. Other than that not really.
You always have the greatest socks. How do you decide which ones to wear?
Sometimes it’s preplanned and an idea will come in, or maybe a movie’s coming up, or it’s just something I haven’t done yet. I wanted to do Ben 10 socks once because I’d recently gotten my newest Omega watch and I was like oh, this looks like an Omnitrix (worn by the Cartoon Network character), so I was going to have my Ben 10 socks and act like I was choosing an alien from my watch. Most of the time it just has to do with what I like in pop culture.
And who’s on the pre-race playlist?
A lot of Kanye (West). There’s some Travis Scott in there. A little bit of Jay-Z. Hmmm. Some Chief Keef. A little bit of Jaden Smith, J. Cole, Meek Mill. I’d say that about rounds out the list.
Do you have a favorite country to race in outside of the U.S.?
Monaco and Japan are by far my favorite two places to go. Japan, those fans, I don’t know why but they are incredibly eager for track. I went there for the World Relays and they were just extremely excited to have us there. I was like, “I didn’t even know you guys liked track.” And then Monaco. I love Monaco’s track, I love the city, I love the atmosphere. It’s the closest thing to home. I just love being there. I’ve definitely had some fun, fast races there.
Moving away from track a little bit, are you a big binge watcher? Did you blow through any Netflix series or anything like that during quarantine?
If we’re talking about bingeing, me, my brother and his girlfriend all started watching “90 Day Fiancé.” We watched the latest season of “90 Day Fiancé,” then we watched “Before the 90 Days” then we started watching “After the 90 Days,” but it was that “Before the 90 Days” where I’m just over here like, these people are crazy! I’m looking at it and I’m sorry but all I can see is desperate. Like, have some confidence in your ability or, I don’t know, put some work into yourself before you start going halfway across the country with someone you haven’t even met before. That’s just crazy to me.
What’s one show that everyone needs to see?
“The Office.” By far “The Office.”
Are you a night owl or an early riser?
I used to be a night owl for sure. Now by force I’m an early riser. I wake up at 6:45 a.m. everyday. I hate it. I can’t physically sleep in because my body automatically wakes up at 6:45. I’ve caught so many planes at four o’clock in the morning and had to get up for photo shoots and stuff like that so my body is now naturally acclimated to getting up early rather than later. I can stay up for a long time if I prep myself, but if I’m getting ready for bed, it’s 10:30 p.m., that’s my bedtime, and somebody’s like, “Hey we’re going out,” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m staying in. You didn’t give me enough warning.”
How about music? What are you listening to right now?
I listen to a lot of different music. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Don Toliver. I’m always listening to Travis Scott and Kanye; they’re constantly on there. Somebody just put me onto this artist that I’d inadvertently listened to but didn’t know it, Burna Boy. He’s an afro rapper, so I’ve been listening to him. Random things. I’m always into music. As long as it’s good I’ll listen to it, or try to listen to it.
Who has influenced you musically in your own recordings?
Definitely Kanye for sure. Kendrick Lamar. A little bit of J. Cole and a little bit of Travis Scott. Yeah, definitely some Travis Scott. I feel like if I put all my energy into music as I did track I’d be more a Travis Scott-type artist. The way he puts his energy into music and how he’s a performer. Kanye was his mentor and I could definitely see me being like that.
Are you a big live music fan? Do you go to concerts?
I like to go to concerts but I don’t get to go to a lot of them. I’m always training. And for some reason they keep having concerts on weekdays. Whose idea was this? Put them on the weekends!
Who would you like to see live that you haven’t yet?
I was supposed to see Jhene Aiko in April and then the COVID happened and I couldn’t go see her. I was also supposed to see Brent Faiyaz perform his new album and, again, the COVID happened and I was like, all these times, I’m so upset. Then I was supposed to see Kanye years ago, back on his Life of Pablo tour, but he canceled it because he was going through one of his mental breakdowns and I didn’t get to see him. I was so hurt by that because Kanye’s one of my favorite rappers. Probably is my favorite rapper, so I was very hurt by that. Definitely have to see Kanye. Other than that I don’t know. I’ve got to get to a rock concert one of these days. I don’t know whose. Probably Breaking Benjamin. I’m a pretty big fan of theirs so I’d probably want to see one of their concerts.
Speaking of the COVID, how have you handled having to adjust your goals and expectations for this year with everything the pandemic has brought?
Everything’s just kind of been pushed back a year. And even though I’m not going to the Olympics doesn’t mean I’m not trying to run fast. I feel that, for some reason in everybody’s head it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s not the Olympics so you can’t run fast.’ What? What do you think I do for the rest of the other three years? Just run slow? Why would I do that? I’m trying to get paid. I’ve gotta pay bills, too. No. I’m still planning to run just as fast as I would, and I just plan to run faster next year.
How much have you missed competing?
Luckily I’ve been able to compete at least five times this year, which is more than some people can say. It’s nice to get back to it, but I’ve missed the professionalism of competing. Not your backyard meets. I’m tired of those, where you’re not in a stadium and the wind goes around a stadium instead of through the track and now all your times are wind aided.
Or they put you on the wrong starting line.
Or they put you on the wrong starting line.
Can you laugh about it now?
I would, but everybody else started laughing before I laughed. Now it’s not as funny.
How much are you looking forward to going to Monaco?
I’m pretty excited. After having the (virtual) Zurich Diamond League I went to my coach and I was like, “You know what? I want to run really fast at Monaco.” I’m going to be in a stadium, it’s going to be on a really good track, great crowd, I love running in Monaco, so I want to run really fast. We’ve been training with that in mind, so all the races that I’ve been having I’ve been training for Monaco. I haven’t been gearing up to run fast at the lower meets. I’ve really been getting ready to try and do something really amazing at Monaco.
No fears about COVID and traveling?
I’m not going to say fear. I’m going to say I’m concerned, and I’m going to take the right precautions going in. Of course I’m going to bring my own hand sanitizer and multiple different masks, just making sure that I go in with the right mindset. But I can’t be fearful, especially now that we’re doing worse than them. I think it might be safer to go over there.
Do you have cool masks like you have cool socks?
So I actually had masks before this became an issue. I’m into Japanese fashion and they wear a lot of masks just for fashion, so I’d collected masks up to this and I have ones that resemble anime, facial expressions, and some that match specific outfits. So masks were something I just collected, and now I’m like, “Oh, now I have a reason to wear them and not look weird.”
So you were ahead of the times.