An exclusive chat with Noah Lyles about life on and off the track after he won three gold medals in Budapest
You suspect Noah Lyles knew exactly what he was doing. He had just become the fifth man in history to complete the 100m and 200m sprint double at a World Championships, and decided to air some opinions.
Asked – as he often is – about what could be done to improve the sport he is bending to his will, he decided to turn the focus in another direction. The man who was born in Florida should be a huge star in America, yet still his profile is dwarfed by those who make their living through American football, baseball or the sport Lyles singled out. Basketball.
“What hurts me the most is I have to watch the NBA finals and they have world champion on their heads,” Lyles said. “World champion of what? The United States?
“Don’t get me wrong – I love the US, at times – but that ain’t the world.”
It is inarguable that the 26-year-old is at the heart of a truly global sport. In his gold medal-winning exploits in Budapest he saw off opponents from Britain to Botswana, Canada to the Czech Republic.
Much of the sporting public in America reacted to the comments with outrage and anger – also largely missing the point entirely – filling broadcast schedules with opinions about why Lyles was wrong. Yet, with his words, he placed athletics into the spotlight and made it the centre of attention. And that is his mission.
Not only does Lyles know how to win, he is also becoming increasingly adept at knowing how to play the game away from the track. He regularly speaks of “wanting to transcend” the sport and being more than “track famous”. To that end, he can be found at fashion shows, collaborating with designers, artists and musicians, as well as starring in his own docuseries which is designed to peek behind the scenes of the sprinting world. ω
In Budapest, he was also followed closely by the Netflix cameras. Ahead of next year’s Paris Olympics, the streaming platform will be screening a series which focuses on the quickest humans on the planet. The hope is that it can have a similar effect to the Drive to Survive project that did so much to raise the profile of Formula One.
“They weren’t talking about me at the beginning of that documentary,” joked Lyles. “As soon as I won [at the Diamond League] in Paris, they got buddy, buddy real quick!
“I think it went from being a…