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Feature20 Feb 2024

Making history, and getting gold in Glasgow, has a ring to it for Lyles


Noah Lyles in Boston (© Dan Vernon)

The package Noah Lyles had awaited for weeks was delivered on 3 February at the Boston office of his agency, Global Athletics & Marketing. 

Inside was a ring made by a New York jeweller, designed by Lyles and as unapologetically statement-making as its new owner.

As wide as two fingers and covered in diamonds, it is topped by an oval, hand-painted to look like a red, five-lane track that surrounds two letters. If there were any confusion behind the meaning of ‘WC’, golden lettering jutting out of one side reads ‘World Champion 2023’, and the other ‘three times’.

Noah Lyles' ring

Noah Lyles' ring (© Andrew Greif)

Accustomed to the tradition of US leagues commemorating titles with championship rings, Lyles ordered the piece to remember his own last year, when he claimed not only the 100m and 200m titles, but ran a leg on the victorious US 4x100m team at the World Athletics Championship in Budapest. Only 26, he has become the self-styled greatest showman of his sport behind his knack for timing – both his quickness to the line, combined with his instinct to create a scene. It was why after Lyles had shown off his new jewels the day of its arrival, he returned the ring to his agent for safe keeping, with one instruction. 

“Give me the ring,” Lyles said, “after I win.”

The next day, when Lyles crossed the finish line to win the 60m at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in 6.44, he retrieved the ring and began flashing it to every camera he passed as a global television audience watched. The performance at the World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold meeting, a PB by 0.07 that broke Maurice Greene’s 25-year-old meeting record and edged a field including 2022 world 100m champion Fred Kerley, surprised Lyles.

It also reinforced his own goals for 2024, when he expects to add even more jewellery to his collection.

“My confidence has now skyrocketed," Lyles said. “Let’s go get a world indoor medal.”

Lyles ensured that he will be in contention for gold at his first World Athletics Indoor Championships next month in Glasgow after following his victory in Boston with another personal best at the US Indoor Championships in New Mexico on Saturday to win in a world-leading 6.43 and edge a field that included world record-holder Christian Coleman. 

Noah Lyles wins the 60m at the US Indoor Championships

Noah Lyles wins the 60m at the US Indoor Championships (© Getty Images)

"This is the only team I've yet to make, and I just made it, and I came in first, and I’m a world leader," Lyles said after his US title victory. "I mean, all things that I didn’t expect to be, honest. I was just ready to make the team and be like, I'm gonna do like I did Worlds in 2023 in the 100. But no, it’s a different ballgame. This is my weakest event so come outdoor, whew, fireworks."

Lyles edged Jamaica’s Ackeem Blake by 0.01 in Boston, and Coleman by the same margin two weeks later, behind race plans that acknowledged that his starts, both indoor and outdoor, can be “sluggish”. As recently as the day before his New Balance victory, he’d been beaten out of his blocks during his final tune-up practice. Lyles focused instead on taking control between 10m and 20m. In Boston, it helped him beat Kerley in Kerley's indoor debut at 60m. At the US Indoor Championships, he beat Coleman, a 60m veteran and one of sprinting's elite starters. 

"I have waited and worked for eight years to see the numbers I have produced this year in the 60m," Lyles wrote on social media after his US Championships win. "I'm so glad it's finally here."

Despite Lyles’ Glasgow goals, he and his coach are not tailoring his training toward indoor results, the sprinter said, because his biggest ambitions remain fixed on the Paris Olympics and filling one of the only other holes on his otherwise glittering credentials: earning the gold that eluded him during his Olympic debut in Tokyo. To get there, Lyles re-assessed his training programme and increased his lifting regimen, and said he now carries 10 pounds of muscle more than last year. 

“Last year we went after three gold medals,” Lyles said, when asked what defined success for him in 2024. “This year, I want to go after four. Or if I don’t get four, go after three world records.”

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)

That means Lyles is targeting not only 100m, 200m and 4x100m titles, but is serious about running a 4x400m leg, as well, believing that if US officials who determine the relay pool “feel that I'm the man for the job, I'm here for it.” He teased the possibility of running an open 400m in April, when he has a gap on his competition schedule.

“To be honest, I can run a 43 (second relay split) for certain,” Lyles said in Boston. “It’s just, don't put me on last leg, and don't put me on first. 

“Put me on second or third. I need something to chase. If you give the baton to me in first, I'm gonna keep it there. But if I have somebody to chase, or if I'm on second leg and I'm going first (place) and I know that if I create a huge gap and give it to the person in third, like that's what motivates me.”

Lyles is chasing times. On 4 February, he reiterated his long-stated belief that Usain Bolt’s 100m and 200m records are not untouchable. But if his improving times have been a pleasant surprise – his 60m PB entering this season was 6.55 – they are also a secondary motivation to winning. 

It is why the six-time world gold medallist, coming off a year when he became the first man since Bolt in 2016 to win both the 100m and 200m at a world championships, is now targeting his first indoor world medal. And it explained why he prioritised winning four golds in Paris ahead of three world records. Winning four times would make Lyles the first to do that in athletics in a single Olympics since Carl Lewis, in 1984. 

Adding his name next to history’s most accomplished sprinters? To Lyles, that has a ring to it he likes.

Andrew Greif for World Athletics