Noah Lyles on Olympic ambitions, Bolt comparisons and NBA criticism

World’s fastest man Noah Lyles on targeting world records and FOUR Olympic gold medals at Paris 2024, why he’s ‘bored’ of comparisons to Usain Bolt… and that criticism of NBA’s ‘world champions’

    Noah Lyles suits these surroundings. Sitting on the balcony of his luxury beach hotel overlooking Monte Carlo, wearing Fendi sunglasses and an adidas x Gucci tracksuit, the American agrees with Mail Sport’s assertion that he is made for Monaco. ‘I’d definitely say so,’ he admits. ‘It’s flashy, it’s fun, it has the vibe, it has the celebrity feel.’

    Right now, no active athlete is a bigger celebrity than Lyles, who owns a red carpet like he does a red track. Proof of that comes later that night, as he arrives at the Prince’s Palace of Monaco in a white suit and custom-made overcoat to collect his World Athletics award for men’s track athlete of the year.

    Lyles has picked up the prize for winning gold in the 100metres, 200m and 4x100m relay at the World Championships in Budapest in August, the first man to complete a sprint treble since Usain Bolt. That, though, is where the 26-year-old wants the comparisons with the Jamaican legend to end. ‘I am a very big believer in everybody being their own person,’ says Lyles. ‘Comparing somebody to somebody else is the lazy man’s understanding.’

    Unperturbed, Mail Sport suggests to Lyles that he is the best thing to happen to athletics since Bolt retired in 2017. ‘That is very nice of you to say, but it is still a Bolt comparison,’ he shoots back. How about, then, the best thing to happen to the sport in the last six years? ‘Thank you – yes I agree with that!’

    As it goes, so does Bolt. Footage from Lyles’ recent NBC documentary shows Bolt approaching his heir apparent after a race in Jamaica in June and telling him: ‘Keep your same attitude. The sport needs that s***. We need a personality.’

    American sprint star Noah Lyles spoke to Mail Sport about his ambitions for the Paris 2024 Olympics next year and why he is bored with comparisons to the legendary Usain Bolt

    Lyles became the first man to complete a sprint treble since Bolt at this summer’s World Championships in Budapest

    Lyles is seen as Bolt’s heir apparent with the Jamaican having recently spoken in praise of his attitude and personality 

    ‘That was nice to hear,’ Lyles is willing to admit. ‘From somebody who has been to where I want to go, it’s nice to know they see what I am doing and agree that I should keep doing that.’

    Not that Lyles needed any extra encouragement. This is a sprinter who thinks running fast is only part of his job. ‘Half of it is winning, half of it is being an entertainer,’ he says. ‘People forget that sport is entertainment. That is why they pay us a lot of money.’

    And that is also why Lyles has the potential to transcend the sport like few other athletes. He has gained more than 500,000 followers on Instagram and almost 100,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, not just because of his track exploits, but also his rap music, flamboyant clothes and ever-changing hair and nail styles.

    Lyles has taken to the runway at Paris and Milan fashion weeks and he has even brought the catwalk concept to his sport this year, launching ‘walk-ins’ where athletes arrive for events in statement outfits rather than sportswear. Not surprisingly, he has big plans for the Olympics next summer.

    ‘If I am able to be creative and have an outlet to show that, that’s what I find pleasurable,’ says Lyles, sporting gold-painted nails. ‘Ever since I started showing my interest in fashion, I have had fans who only watch me compete to see my outfits, which is pretty cool.

    ‘Paris is the fashion capital of the world and there is going to be a lot of sub-cultures of each sport showing up at the Olympics. I am going to do my part to be able to show that. Hopefully I will be able to collaborate with a lot of like-minded people and we can push the boundaries.’

    No wonder, then, that Netflix will make Lyles front and centre of their new documentary tracking the world’s top sprinters when it is released next summer.

    The sprinter possesses the star quality and personality to transcend athletics and boasts a significant following online

    Lyles was crowned as World Athletics’ men’s track athlete of the year at their awards gala in Monaco on Monday

    The American sprint star showed of his style as he picked up the award wearing a white suit and custom-made overcoat

    Lyles will be front and centre of a new Netflix documentary which will track the sport’s top sprinters throughout next year

    ‘I am excited because they have done a really good job with all of their other projects,’ says Lyles about the show’s producers Box to Box, the makers of Formula 1: Drive to Survive. ‘I was saying to the cameraman, “You have filmed F1, tennis and golf, which has been your favourite?”. He was like, “This is by far the best one – the tension, the magic in the air, the feeling that anything can happen at any time”.’

    But while it is hoped the series will bring a new audience to athletics, Lyles knows it will not be a silver bullet. And he goes on to detail his own grand plan for growing the sport – creating four major week-long annual events at four different venues around the world.

    ‘I have always been a fan of the Grand Slam strategy in tennis,’ he says. ‘After going to two of the four, I see the passion that it ignites. I have always felt that we could adapt that very well.

    ‘It is every year and you tap into every market. If you are going to a company and say, “Hey, I am going to put you on TV for a day”, they might not be inclined to give you so much money. You tell them you are going to put you on TV for a week, now they are like, “Let’s bring our A-game”.

    ‘You will also get stadiums being built specifically for track and field, knowing that it will be used every year. You don’t have to share it with a soccer field, and have them messing up the stadium with their bleachers (temporary stands).

    ‘It was really sad when I went to London and I am just seeing bleacher marks all over this beautiful track that held the Olympics. I was like, “Wow, so disrespectful and sad to see”.’

    Clearly, Lyles has given this idea some serious thought. ‘I think about changing the world every day,’ he grins. ‘When I am done with track, I want to be able to go back to the track meets and people to know who I am because I changed the sport.’

    Does he really think he can? ‘I am already doing it,’ he instantly replies.

    The six-time world champion revealed plans for four major week-long annual events at four different venues around the world

    Lyles told Mail Sport of his plans to help grow athletics and leave a lasting impact on the sport in addition to personal success

    Lyles, it transpires, has another title to defend before Christmas. ‘We have our gingerbread house competition on the 24th,’ he says about his annual Bake Off-style family event. ‘Me and my girlfriend are the reigning champions from last year. We need to make sure we bring home the gold!’

    This story shows the other side of the showman. The family man. It is demonstrated again by the fact his mother Keisha – a former college champion runner – has accompanied him to Monaco.

    ‘She is the whole reason that I am here now,’ admits Lyles, whose brother Josephus is also a professional sprinter. ‘She was the person who sacrificed for me and my brother to be able to achieve our dreams. Even now, she is still our manager – our mom-ager as we call her.’

    Lyles needed all of his mum’s support during a difficult childhood, which makes his rise to the top of athletics all the more remarkable. ‘It was all struggles,’ he recalls. ‘Bullied, asthma, dyslexia, ADD (attention deficit disorder).’

    Medication for the latter caused Lyles’ teeth to turn yellow, resulting in verbal and physical bullying at school. ‘That made me angry and very aggressive,’ he admits. ‘All I wanted to do was sports because that was the only place that I felt safe and that I mattered. You can’t make fun of me if I am the best in the world.’

    So, now he is indeed the best in the world, what would he say to those bullies? ‘I have got nothing to say to them,’ he insists. ‘It’s like the people who think I can’t win. You’re the one who is stuck – you’ve got to watch me win. I feel sorry for you.’

    There were, Lyles points out, plenty of people who did not think he could win the 100m before Budapest. ‘I was recently watching the BBC coverage of my 100m heats, semis and final for the first time,’ he says. ‘They went from hating on me, to hating on me some more. Then I win and they hit me with, “Oh, I knew he could do it the whole time”. It was pretty funny to watch.

    The American believes he has been viewed differently outside the sport of athletics since winning the 100m world title

    He claimed the BBC’s coverage of the 100m was ‘funny’ after going from ‘hating on me’ to claiming they knew he would win

    Lyles received a backlash from basketball players after his criticism of NBA ‘world champions’ during a press conference

    He had suggested his world titles are a bigger deal than NBA glory because he faces global rivals on the track

    ‘I’ve always known that I’m the fastest man on the planet. But nobody would believe me unless I actually had the 100m title. That has changed the way people have viewed me outside of the sport.’

    That – and his press conference comments after winning his third straight world 200m title. In making a seemingly innocuous point about athletics being a true global sport, Lyles said: ‘I watch the NBA finals and they have “world champion” on their head. World champion of what? The United States?’

    Those remarks provoked a huge backlash from basketball players, including superstar Kevin Durant. But for Lyles, it was job done. ‘I was only surprised by the reaction because I have made that comment multiple times before in my career, but this was the first time it grabbed the attention,’ he says. ‘Only since I became the fastest man on the planet, now they have a reason to care.

    ‘I love basketball. I wanted to be an NBA player when I was young. I just said that the national governing body is the national governing body. They were just being used as an example and yet they felt like the main characters.’

    Even Grammy award-winning rapper Drake took aim at the athlete. ‘I was wondering what he was doing,’ laughs Lyles. ‘I was just waiting for the next album. I am a little disappointed that it didn’t come out so good!’

    In contrast, Lyles has never been more in tune. Now he wants to hit the high notes again at Paris 2024. ‘I’m more hungry than before because I’ve proven that I can do it,’ he says. ‘Another fire has been ignited for next year.’

    His first fire, he admits, was fuelled two years ago. That was when he failed to make the USA’s 100m team for Tokyo 2020, then could only claim a bronze in the 200m despite being world champion.

    ‘Ever since I crossed the line after that 200m final, all I could think about was Paris,’ admits Lyles. ‘I learned very quickly that a world medal does not hold the weight of an Olympic medal. So I am like, “OK, I’ll make sure to get that one”.’

    Lyles, right, has been fuelled by only winning bronze when reigning 200m world champion at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, with Canada’s Andre De Grasse, centre, winning gold 

    Four Olympic gold medals have been targeted by Lyles at next summer’s Paris 2024 Olympics, as well as world records

    But Lyles is not just thinking of one Olympic medal. He believes he could claim four, teasing the possibility of him competing in the 4x400m relay at the end of the Games. Lyles also reckons he will break Bolt’s 200m world record of 19.19sec. His current personal best is 19.31sec, a US record and the third fastest of all time.

    Asked what will happen in Paris, he says: ‘Everything. World records. Gold medals. Maybe even four. I was talking to a close friend and he was like, “I already know you’re going to win three golds at the Olympics, I want you to win four. I remember when you were in high school, I watched you go from second to last to first in the 4x400m, there’s your fourth medal”.

    ‘I was like, “I’m not going to say no to that”. It’s the last race, there’s nothing to lose. If I’m in shape for it and I’ve trained for it all year, let’s take a crack at it.

    ‘People didn’t believe the 100m was realistic, it doesn’t mean you don’t go after it. I am going to put myself in a position where I can do all of it.’

    The sky is the limit? ‘And space,’ replies Lyles, a man forever shooting for the stars.

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