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Noah Lyles: ‘Nobody deserves the sprint king title more than me’

The winner of the 100-meter race at the Budapest World Athletics Championships says he can break Usain Bolt’s 200-meter record of 19.19 seconds

Carlos Arribas
Noah Lyles
Noah Lyles, after winning the 100-meter race at the 2023 World Athletic Championships in Budapest, Hungary.Szilard Koszticsak (EFE)

Just hours before the 100-meter semifinal race on August 20, Noah Lyles of Gainesville, Florida was spotted in the Adidas hospitality tent taking photos. He was wearing a suit and his ever-present smile in scorching heat over 100°F. After winning the race and clocking his personal best time of 9.83 seconds, Lyles confidently announced that he would shatter Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s world record of 19.19 seconds in the 200 meters later that week. “I am very ready,” he told EL PAÍS in an interview that was briefly interrupted by a woman bursting into the room. “Let me in — I’m the world champion’s mother!” Mother and son shared a heartfelt embrace and burst into laughter.

Question. After winning the 100 meters and being crowned the sprint king in Budapest, did you feel any different from the day before?

Answer. I felt a surge of excitement and joy. Winning world championships [Lyles is a two-time world champion in the 200 meters] usually feels like a weight off my shoulders. But this time, I felt energized and ready to get back into the fight. For me, it was more of a reaffirmation than a moment of glory. I feel like the peak of these world championships is still ahead of me.

Q. You’re talking about the 200m final, right?

A. Yes, exactly. I’m talking about running under 19.19 seconds [Usain Bolt’s world record set in 2009. Lyles’ best time in the distance is 19.31 seconds]. That’s where all my momentum is headed now. It’s almost like this was a practice for me to build my speed up throughout the week to get to [the 200-meter race on] Friday.

Q. Do you feel ready to beat Bolt's record?

A. I am very ready.

Q. Breaking the 200m record isn’t enough to be called the fastest man in the world. You also need to best Bolt’s world record of 9.58 seconds in the 100 meters as well. I’ve read that you’ve had that goal for the last few years. Your best time was 9.83 seconds to win the race two days ago. What do you have to do to shave off 26 hundredths and get down to 9.57 seconds?

A. The great thing about that final was that it helped me realize there’s still a lot for me to learn about the 100-meter race. The 200 meters, I know it like the back of my hand. It’s easy. It’s natural. The 100 is like my left hand. I know it, but I can’t really write my name so pretty. But I know I can get there. It can one day be like writing with my right hand. I’m excited to figure out what it’s going to take to get there. So yes, I became the 100-meter world champion, but the more exciting thing is I know that I’m going to improve every year.

Q. To improve, do you need to be pushed by other fast-starters, like [Christian] Coleman?

A. No, I was in my own head. To be honest, I don’t remember seeing everybody. I knew they were there, but when there was 20 meters left, I knew that I was about to hit a speed that nobody else could hit. And I did. And I knew crossing that line that I was the winner. Now, I was a little confused because everybody else was cheering like they had won. But when the board said my name, I was like, okay, that’s what I knew to be true.

Q. In the last five 100-meter world championships, there have been five different winners, Gatlin, Coleman, Jacobs, Kerley and now you. Do you think you can win in 2024? You’d be the first back-to-back winner since Bolt.

A. I’m using this World Championships as a blueprint. My aim for the Olympic Games next year is to win three gold medals. I want Budapest to be the beginning of my own dynasty.

Q. Nobody has won both the 100 meters and 200 meters since Bolt at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

A. There’s a lot of things that go into being a legend, and doubling is one of them. It’s something that is so hard to do. To be crowned as the king of sprints... I feel that nobody truly deserves that title more than me. And I’m willing to fight tooth and nail for that.

Q. Have you ever been to Spain?

A. No, I haven't had the pleasure yet.

Q. Of course, there are no big meets [in Spain] for people like you.

A. Oh well, maybe we can change that in the future.

Q. Maybe, but a lot more money would need to be invested in athletics: more sponsorships and more marketing.

A. To be honest, I think we can start small and do things that don’t require a lot of money. I think there are a lot of athletes at the top that will trade money for more viewership. If they know that their market value is increasing, I believe that they’d be willing to trade some of that up-front fast money for long-term money.

Q. Your exuberance, haircut, joyful victory celebrations — are they all part of a strategy? Are they a way of getting a bigger audience?

A. That’s just me — it’s not strategy. Kids tell me all the time, I want to be like you when I grow up. And the only way I know how to respond is, as long as you’re being yourself, you’re already like me.

Q. You like manga, Dragon Ball and Goku...

A. I still read manga! In the 100-meter final I wore Goku socks.

Q. I read that you were bullied at school.

A. In the sixth grade, I was definitely bullied.

Q. You give the impression of being a man on a mission. Does that come from what you suffered at school?

A. No, I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t say those things are connected. I’d say more that I just don’t like being compared. I grew up in a home where we all celebrated each other’s gifts, our natural gifts. Whether that’s being good at running, being smart in school, creating things. That’s how we viewed each other. We viewed each other as all being different and creating a collective and a strong team. So when I see people compare me to others, that goes against a lot of the beliefs that I had growing up.

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