The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Noah Lyles

Aug 16th, 2022
9:13 am PDT

To borrow from a popular phrase. Track and field in America suffers from many things, but talent is not one of them. We lead the world in talent. Especially in speed and strength events at the present time. At the recent World Championships, we won 33 medals. In spite of a lack of government support. No real developmental system. And poor management by USATF, the sport’s governing body in this country. We also do a poor job of telling the story of our talent to the masses in the US. Too many of our athletes are relatively unknown. Especially compared to the athletes in other professional sports. So today, I want to talk a bit about two time World 200 champion Noah Lyles.

Noah is one of a handful of outstanding sprinters that began their journey as an elite talent while still in high school. In 2016, as a high school senior, he took fourth in the US Olympic Trials 200 – against the men. In the process setting a new high school record of 20.09. Breaking a 32 year old record set by legend Roy Martin. That was the beginning of Noah’s quest to become the greatest 200 meter sprinter ever.

He started his professional career straight out of high school. As one of the nation’s top college recruits, he had chosen to attend the University of Florida. A funny thing happened on his way to UF however, as he decided to turn Pro instead. He ran 19.90 early that year (2017) proving that he was indeed ready to compete against the world’s best. But then his season turned sour as he injured a hamstring. Derailing his season and causing him to miss a shot at the World Championships in London. Noah proved his tenacity however, by doing his rehab and eventually returning to finish the season, running another 19.90. He’s been on a tear ever since!

In the off season of 2018, Noah tried his hand at the 100 in addition to running the 200. In his number two event, Noah won the national title, the World Cup, and lowered his PB to 9.89. Not too shabby in event #2. In his pet event, he was undefeated; had four races under 19.70; and set a new PB of 19.65. Noah had clearly arrived as one of the sport’s premier sprinters.

2019 saw Noah continue his winning ways in both the 100 and 200. In only a handful of 100’s, he lowered is PB to 9.86; defeated eventual World Champion Christian Coleman; and won the Diamond League title. In the deuce, he opened up with his only loss in the event since high school. A .O2 loss to Michael Norman. He rebounded with a sizzling 19.50 PB in his next meet. Then he took the US title; before winning a pair of Diamond League races. Next stop Doha and winning his first World title in the 200! Noah continued to be one of the planet’s hottest stars.

Noah and athletes all over the globe were looking forward to 2020 and the Tokyo Games. By his own admission he was considering an attempt at a sprint double. After all, Noah wants to be great. Then it happened. Covid. And everything changed. The world was shut down. Training became difficult at best. Tokyo was postponed. And uncertainty became the rule of the day. There were a handful of “social distancing” meets that were held. With Noah running “seasonal bests” of 10.05 and 19.76. Eventually however, everything was completely shut down.

What amounted to about half a year later, in 2021, sports began to reopen with severe rules in effect. Including masks, social distancing, and no fans being allowed at competitions of any kind. A difficult proposition for an athlete that is the consummate showman, and feeds off the energy of the fans. Having started his training later than usual, as stated in an interview, Noah’s 100 clearly suffered. He made the Trials final, but never looked like himself all year. In the end finishing 7th in Eugene. He came back and proved that he was still the man in the 200 however, taking the Trials win after looking vulnerable in the rounds.

Then in Tokyo he committed a cardinal sin in his semifinal. Clearly in front, he “shut down” before the line and finished in a photo for third. In a race where only the first two automatically moved on to the final! Noah got into the final on time, but with an unfavorable lane draw. Getting lane 3. That proved to be his undoing as he struggled around the turn; ran hard in the stretch; but came up short finishing 3rd. Noah brought his bronze back home. Went to Prefontaine. And finished his season with a world leading 19.50. As if to say, “I’m still the best”. Noah would later admit, that like so many others, he had had some mental health issues resulting from Covid isolation. He’s gotten himself a sports therapist. And has been an advocate for improving one’s mental health.

That brings us to this year and the first full stadium season since 2019. And Noah, being the showman that he is, has been showing out! As he’s having what may be the best season that anyone has ever had in the 200!

He started the year by running indoors in an effort to improve his notoriously poor start. And honestly he did look better. Lowering his PB in the 60 meters to 6.55. A solid, elite performance. Then he came outdoors and ran a few hundreds and a couple of twos. The 100’s were ok. But the 200’s were fire – 19.86 and 19.72. Then Erriyon Knighton opened up with 19.49! The story goes that Noah was in the car when he heard, and turned around and went back to the track! He had work to do. Now, I’ve listened to some interviews with Noah, and it seems that between the 19.49 and his start still needing some work, he decided to focus on his “baby” – the deuce.

So, he went to Nationals to compete in spite of having a bye – as many athletes with byes opted out completely. Noah ran every round however. Resulting in one of the most epic 200’s ever in the final. With Erriyon Knighton blazing the turn and coming off with seemingly an insurmountable lead. Then, for the first time this year, we saw Noah shift into what I call “Noahdrive”, as he ran Knighton down from about 5 meters back. Looking over at him near the line as he won 19.67-19.69.

Noah then went to Worlds and ran 19.98 in his opening round and a sizzling, controlled 19.62 semi. The fastest preliminary race ever and well ahead of the 19.84 and 19.86 of Kenny Bednarek and Jereem Richards. Noah was clearly ready for something special in the final. And ready he was. At the gun, Noah was on a mission, flying around the turn in 10.15sec! Coming off the turn in the lead.Then he stepped on the gas! And 9.16sec later he had run 19.31 and taken down the American record that had stood since 1996! Noah and the crowd went nuts. As one of Noah’s goals had been realized.

Last week with the Diamond League back after the break from Worlds, Noah ran in Monaco against a field of Olympians that included Olympic 400 champion Michael Norman – the man who beat Noah in 2019! There would be no repeat in 2022, as Noah once again ran a solid turn, then stepped on the gas. The results this time, a 19.46 victory! With Knighton well back in second at 19.84!

The season is in another break. This time while the European Championships are run. When it’s over, there will be another three Diamond League meets before the season ends. It’s my hope that Mr Lyles runs once or twice more. As he’s clearly ready to take a shot at the WR of 19.19. The high school kid that wanted to be the best in the world has become just that. The WR would be the icing on a cake that’s been six years in the making. This is Noah Lyles. World Champion and American record holder. The best 200 meter sprinter on the planet.


Leave a Reply