World 200m champion wants to break new ground on the track but is also determined to change the profile of athletics and drag the sport into the future

The hip hop music plays in the background as the shutter clicks away. Noah Lyles is happy to strike a range of poses in his adidas/Gucci suit during the photo shoot, very much at ease in front of the camera and accepting of the attention. This is, he knows, a crucial part of his job.

While finishing first and breaking records on the track is his vocation, the American sees it as his business to sell – whether that be himself, his sponsor’s product or even the sport he loves.

Just 24 hours before his photographic appointment, Lyles sat down with AW ahead of the 2022 World Athletics Awards ceremony. He might have been beaten to the top prize by Mondo Duplantis, but the 25-year-old had plenty of other honours from his year’s work to console himself with. 

At the World Championships last summer, in front of a home crowd, he not only successfully defended his world title but also broke Michael Johnson’s 25-year-old US record in the process by running 19.31, the third-fastest time ever, and promptly ripped his sprint suit to shreds. There was a 4x100m relay silver medal to add to the collection, too. 

His roar of jubilation came from an internal fire which had been fuelled by a desire to prove the doubters wrong. After missing out on becoming Olympic 200m champion in Tokyo – that title went to Canadian Andre De Grasse – a lot of the talk before Eugene focused on 18-year-old Erriyon Knighton, who had clocked a brilliant 19.49 in his 2022 season opener. 

Lyles would finish first at the USATF Championships, however, before taking his opposition apart on that same Hayward Field track and winning the world title by 0.46 seconds from Kenny Bednarek and Knighton. He finished 2022 unbeaten in the 200m over 12 races, in fact, running all in under 20 seconds. 

“It’s definitely my greatest season ever,” says an excited Lyles. “I’ll constantly rewatch my races over again. It was that climax over again. In Oregon I went mad and produced the fastest time I’d run in years. It was important to have fans [back in the stands] and it was important to have that energy back. For me, it was a huge deal to be that showman and give back to the people. 

“I always describe the emotion as you have your dream in the shower, the hype, the adrenaline, how the announcers talk about you and how that will feel. It was pure adrenaline, enjoyment and excitement. Shoot for the stars and aim for the moon. There’s that point you where you think you can shoot for the world record [Bolt’s 19.19].” 

Noah Lyles (Getty)

Lyles is the opposite of enigmatic and there’s an admirable, intriguing restlessness about him. He is an engaging, complex character and has spoken openly in recent years about his struggles with depression, as well as dealing with dyslexia and being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as a youngster. Being the focus of a crowd, he admits, can be both delightful and difficult.

“The joyful moments are just that much more exciting when we reach out to people we can connect with,” he says. “Usually those are people who have been on the journey with you, so when you have family or team members, you can confide in them and truly enjoy those moments.”

» This is an edited version of a feature that appeared in the January issue of AW magazine. To read the full article, CLICK HERE