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Asthma, depression and delight – Lyles hard road to top

The American 200M champion opens up about the days when everything was a struggle in his life.
Noah Lyles Celebrates With The Us Flag After Winning The 200m Gold On Tuesday
Noah Lyles celebrates with the US flag after winning the 200M gold on Tuesday. IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

Beyond the glitz, far from the silver hair, brash talk and bright lights, there lurks a Noah Lyles the wider world knows little about.
He is 22 years of age, 5ft 11in tall, hails from Florida and runs fast – fast enough to be the world champion in the 200M at the IAAF World Championships.

A chronicle of his life throws up hard, bare facts about his progress through the ranks and emergence as one of the best sprinters around – one who entertains the fans not just with his speed but with his positive attitude and outgoing personality.

The hard road he has travelled, however, remains largely hidden and on Tuesday night, the American opened up about the dark days, after accomplishing his mission in Doha by winning the 200M gold.

“I’ve had a lot of different challenges through life and it’s shaped me into who I’m now. I had chronic asthma, I had my tonsils removed at six. I had learning disabilities, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and dyslexia. I was in the slow class at school because I had to learn to read differently,” said Lyles.

Because of his issues, Lyles was bullied in school and he had to fight depression at a very young age. The fact that his parents separated when he was just 13 also did not help. But he found an outlet in athletics, an avenue to express himself.

“Mainstream school just wasn’t my strong suit. I got isolated at middle school. I’ve gone through periods of depression and I used track as an outlet. I tried to work on my character as much as I can, on always staying happy and loving what I do,” he said.

Introduced to the track by his father Kevin, a 400M runner, Lyles initially wanted to be a high jumper, but as he moved on, priorities changed, accomplishments and accolades followed. That his mother also was an athlete helped matters.

“I came in to the sport because I wanted to be an Olympic high jump champion. Then I ran at my father’s club from 12 to 15 and he taught me hard work and diligence, and pushing through boundaries. I’ve been around Olympians my whole life, not knowing how great their achievements were.”
His victories at the Youth Olympic Games 200M in 2014 and the World Junior Championships 100M in 2016 marked him out as a man to watch out for – someone who would take over the sprinting reins when sprint king Usain Bolt abdicated.

Lyles has a personal best of 9.86sec in the 100M but like Bolt, the 200 is his favourite. He won the Diamond League titles in both the events this year but in Doha, he had to work hard to emerge on top, with weariness kicking in at the end of a long season.

“It was a lot closer than I thought it was going to be. I’ve run so many different races, from childhood, through youths, through juniors, where I’ve won from different positions – from the back of races, from the middle of races, from first. So I just knew I could pull out a win from any position. It’s those years of experiences that meant I could win,” said Lyles.

Lyles said that even though he had talked about fast times, it was not in his mind. His time on Tuesday, 19.83sec, was much slower than his best of 19.50 this season.

“I got the gold, which was the number one part of the plan. A fast time was number two. If you try to force a fast time it won’t come. Another time I’ll have that moment. I was truthfully shooting for a 19.3.”

Lyles has been touted as the next Bolt – a comparison he hates. He would like to be his own man, a champion with world records against his name. Towards that goal, Lyles is aware of the work he has to put in.

“World records aren’t the thing I’m chasing. I’m chasing to be better each day. World records come when you improve what you’re good at and take away what you’re bad at.

“I’m still working on my start. I still believe I can get a better top-end speed. There’re things I can strengthen. But on the right day, with the right conditions and the right training, hopefully a world record will pop up.”