After winning the IAAF World Championships 200m title on Tuesday night, Noah Lyles sank into the arms of his mother Keisha at the Khalifa International Stadium. It was an emotional moment between the two as they reminisced the hardships they went through when Lyles was a child.
Touted as the next big thing in athletics after the retirement of legendary Usain Bolt, Lyles likes to put on a show. In fact, his American teammate Justin Gatlin describes him as ‘a rock star’, and Lyles certainly wears his confidence on his sleeve.
But self-confidence was never his forte while growing up in Gainesville, Florida. Born to Keisha Caine and Kevin Lyles, the former a fine collegiate athlete, the latter a 4x400m relay world champion in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1995, the young Lyles had athletics in his genes.
But athletics was last thing on his mind as a child. He was hospitalised with chronic asthma when he was still an infant. Later he was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder and dyslexia, and studied in remedial school classes. He has also spoken about the bullying he suffered as a child, which pushed him into depression.
At 22, the world at his feet, all that is past now. But Lyles has never forgotten the hardships he faced that have toughened him up on and off track.
“I’ve had a lot of different challenges through life and it’s shaped me into who I am now,” Lyles said, after his dominant victory at Doha Worlds.
“I had chronic asthma, I had my tonsels removed at six. I had the learning disabilities ADD (attention-deficit disorder) and dyslexia. I was in the slow class at school because I had to learn to read differently. 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.
“In high school I cried because I thought I was going to fail out of college and wouldn’t be able to run. My mum said, ‘You could go pro out of high school.’ And I said, ‘People don’t do that.’ Little did I know that I was going to be the first one,” he recalled.
On Tuesday night, Lyles became the youngest ever winner of the men’s 200m at the World Championships, earning his maiden senior global title with a 19.83 run. Having dominated the event on the international circuit over the past two years, it was hardly a surprise.
Lyles has lost just once at a meeting since finishing fourth at the 2016 US Olympics trials as a high school student. His latest defeat came at the Rome Diamond League in June, where he finished as runner-up to compatriot Michael Norman.
Lyles has been tipped to break Bolt‘s 200m world record of 19.19, which was set at the 2009 world championships in Berlin, but the American claimed surpassing Bolt was the last thing on his mind. “Don’t say I’m the new Bolt,” said Lyles. “I’m me. If you like me, I’ll happily entertain you. It’s my time.”
“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 are things I can strengthen. But on the right day, with the right conditions and the right training, hopefully a world record will pop up,” Lyles added.
Lyles has now set sights on an Olympic double from the 100m and 200m come Tokyo next year. “I’m definitely going after the 1-2 double. I know everyone is asking that, don’t worry,” he assured. “Tokyo is it. This time we got the gold. We got the gold in the 200, and now we are going to get that double gold.”
Meanwhile, for now in Doha, Lyles will bid for his second gold as he is slated to run the 4x100m relay where the Americans are the overwhelming favourites.
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