Feature20 Dec 2023

New fire ignited, Lyles eyes Olympic quadruple in Paris


Noah Lyles (© Mattia Ozbot)

Noah Lyles is hungry for more. The US sprinter might have won a gold medal treble at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23, but rather than seeing it as ‘job done’, those achievements – together with a comment from a friend – mean he has even greater ambition for 2024.

Sitting with some of the world’s media in Monaco ahead of the World Athletics Awards 2023, where he was named men’s World Athlete of the Year for track events, Lyles was asked if getting those three world titles – in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m – had changed him.

“I’m not different. I’m still the same Noah,” replied the 26-year-old. “If anything, I’m more hungry than before because I’ve proved to myself that I can do it, so now I’m even more eager to do it for next year. It’s almost like another fire has been ignited for next year.”

Noah Lyles celebrates with fans at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23

Noah Lyles celebrates with fans at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 (© Getty Images)

Next year; Olympic year. A chance for Lyles to win a first Olympic title, or perhaps four.

“I was talking to a close friend and he's 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 at Penn Relays go from second to last to first in the 4x400m, chasing down all those Jamaicans - there's your fourth medal,’” recounted Lyles, the Olympic 200m bronze medallist in Tokyo.

“I've never had somebody tell me something that has thrown my out-of-the-box thinking to inside-the-box, but that was like: okay, I'm not going to say no to that. Because after what I did at Budapest and seeing what my body could handle, if I train for it, okay, let's take a shot. If they allow me, if they need me and they are willing - let's go, let's take it.”

Lyles put on quite the show in Budapest. After winning the 100m title in 9.83 – a PB that remained the joint fastest time of the season – he then won his third consecutive world 200m title in 19.52. Just one day later he completed the treble, running the anchor leg as USA regained the men’s 4x100m title.

He held up three fingers in celebration.

Noah Lyles anchors USA to win the 4x100m at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23

Noah Lyles anchors USA to win the 4x100m at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 (© Getty Images)

So, which of the three, if it’s possible to choose, was his favourite title to win?

“This is hard, because each one of them was very important to me,” Lyles replied. “The 100m was important because 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. I’d definitely say that has changed the way that people have viewed me a little bit, especially outside of the sport. Now it’s no longer ‘American record-holder Noah Lyles’, it’s ‘fastest man in the world Noah Lyles’, and that has changed their viewpoint.

“I think for this year, I’m going to rank that as first and I’ll rank the 200m as second, because it was my third time winning the 200m. Then the 4x100m I’ll put third. Just because the relay, it’s fun. The icing on top was the 4x100m.”

All that was achieved in a season in which Lyles remained undefeated in six 200m finals, including at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in London where he clocked 19.47 for the third-fastest performance of his career. That time saw him maintain his position as world 200m leader for the sixth consecutive year.

“I was extremely shocked to find out how well my body held up (in Budapest),” he added. “Going through it, I’m like: ‘I’m feeling great, each round I’m getting better.’ I’m truly shocked with what my body was able to produce. In training right now I’m pushing my body way past what I did last year because we now know where it can go.”

Noah Lyles wins the 100m at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23

Noah Lyles wins the 100m at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 (© Getty Images)

Someone who has been there for Lyles through it all is his mother, Keisha Caine, who was in the room as Lyles was being interviewed. Offered the mic in Monaco, it was her turn to ask a question.

“Which publication are you representing?” Lyles asked with a smile.

“I’m representing all the moms,” Caine replied.

“You have a lot of youth who look up to you, and they have no idea how they can get to where you are because you seem so untouchable to them,” she continued. “But I know you remember being that kid, watching athletics on television. So, if you could go back, what would you tell that kid in how to reach where you are right now?”

Lyles replied: “To be honest, I actually did not care to be an Olympian or a world champion when I was younger. Because I grew up in a household where there were a lot of connections to other Olympians and other world champions. Jearl Miles Clark is one of my godmothers and she is a five-time Olympian. Her sisters-in-law are also Olympians – multi-Olympians – so at the age of eight I had the assumption that being an Olympian was a rite of passage; it was like getting your driver’s licence. It just eventually happened – as long as you live long enough, and you say you want to do it; you can do it.

“It wasn’t until probably 2012, I was around 15, when I realised this was an actual hard thing to do. While watching the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony, me and my brother – at the USATF Junior Olympics – we’re like: ‘we want to become Olympians’. It was that passion we had that we never let go of.

Brothers Josephus Lyles and Noah Lyles

Brothers Josephus Lyles and Noah Lyles (© Getty Images)

“A lot of people will say: ‘how could you have so much conviction in what you wanted to do at such a young age?’ To be honest, I don’t have an answer for you – I just knew that’s what I wanted. I know that there are a lot of youth who are probably doing things that they don’t want to do, and you know what it feels like when you get to do the thing that you love. That was running, for me. When I had the avenue to be able to go down that path and say I’m going to devote almost all my energy to this one thing, sacrifices didn’t feel like sacrifices.

“I love what I do, I prayed for this. I get to live my dream. When you have a passion for something, avenues will open up. My advice is be strong, be brave and take those avenues. When the door opens, take it. When the window opens, jump through it. The window might be high and you might have to scale a wall to jump through that window to get in, but take it, because it might never come again. Being brave doesn’t mean that you have no fear – it means that through fear, you still attempt.”

Noah Lyles and his mother, Keisha Caine, in Monaco

Noah Lyles and his mother, Keisha Caine, in Monaco (© Christel Saneh)

Putting a question to his mother in return, Lyles asked: “How did you decide to make the sacrifice to choose your children’s dreams over your own dream, or was that even a sacrifice at all?”

“And what publication are you with?” Caine retorted with another smile.

Moving to sit alongside Lyles, she added: “When you were chatting just now, and you were speaking about sacrifice and how people say: ‘how can you sacrifice so much for your sport?’ You said: ‘this is what I prayed for.’ I can resonate with that because my philosophy on parenting is children don’t ask to be born, and so as a parent, it is our job to make sure that we are their boosters. It was my job to find out – when my children were small – what are your gifts? That’s something that I prayed for; for God to show me, what is each child’s gift?

“I look at it as my job to figure out how to take their gift and help them edify it and build the skills around it. To me, it was not a sacrifice, it’s something that I feel comes naturally as a parent, because that is our job to do as a parent. If we do our jobs right, each generation in our family gets better and better. That is how we leave a legacy that extends beyond our lifetime.”

With the Olympic Games on the horizon, and with four titles to shoot for, award-winner Lyles can continue his own legacy in 2024.

Jess Whittington for World Athletics

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