(Reuters) - Not everyone may know him yet, but there’s a new man ready to put “the show” back in track and field.
“Every time I step on the track, I believe I am putting on a show,” young American sprinter Noah Lyles told Reuters.
“I like to be a showman.”
Usain Bolt, until he retired in 2017, was a master at thrilling crowds with his world record speed and post-race poses and antics.
Now, 20-year-old Lyles wants to follow suit.
“Track and field isn’t just racing, it’s putting on a show,” the talkative sprinter said.
Along with high-fiving fans before and after races, “I’m starting to do themes with my socks to get people excited,” Lyles said.
“Like ‘oh! I’m going to turn on the channel just to see what kind of socks he is going to wear.’”
There might even be a couple of Bolt-like moves along the way, like the back flip Lyles had thought about doing after a May race in Oregon.
He’s also filling social media with splashy posts and intriguing videos to build his brand.
A search on Twitter this week would result in Lyles popping up to let spectators know he will be in Jamaica on Saturday for a 100 meters race against 2011 world champion Yohan Blake.
“Going to take a break from the 200,” says Lyles. “Trying to get a sub-10 seconds.
“I think you guys can get me there,” he adds, pulling followers into the action.
The one-time high school prodigy already seems to have the 200m under control.
A personal best 19.83 seconds in Doha last month got people talking. Then at the Prefontaine Classic in Oregon on May 26, the talk became a roar as Lyles, clad in a bright orange jersey, streaked home in an eye-catching 19.69 seconds.
Only nine men have run faster as the American joined 20-year-old South African Clarence Munyai as the year’s best at 200.
“I was planning to do a back flip if PR’d (personal record),” the young sprinter said in a post race video.
It never happened though.
“I legit just forgot,” Lyles said.
Maybe it was the excitement of being back on top after a hamstring tear wiped out key portions of his 2017 season.
“I am starving!” Lyles said. “I’m starving to grab a medal, a world championship spot. Get on a team.”
He came so close as an 18-year-old, missing by nine-hundredths of a second of making the U.S. 2016 Rio Olympics team in the 200m.
A world indoor record in the 300 meters helped start his 2017 season.
But there would be no qualifying for the 2017 world championships in London because of the hamstring injury, and many outside of the sport seemed to forget about the talented teen.
Fully recovered, “the kid,” as Lyles sometimes refers to himself, is on a roll.
While others may have overlooked him, “the kid knew he was going to be coming up and he’s going to be taking on those (world championship, Olympic) spots,” Lyles said.
An opportunity to race against the best prompted Lyles and brother Josephus, a 400m runner, to turn professional in 2016 while still teenagers.
“It’s not for everybody,” said Noah’s coach Lance Brauman.
“A lot of people might be ready physically but not mentality. He was one of the few that was mentally ready to handle this level.”
Lyles has shown that maturity by never having lost one of the four Diamond League races he’s entered over the past two years.
Along with natural talent, “his biggest gift is the ability to maintain top-end speed,” said Brauman of the 2016 world junior 100 meters champion.
“He’s mechanically really good, especially toward the end of runs. Once he gets up to speed, he has the ability to maintain it more so than most people.
“And he doesn’t really panic. He holds his composure really well, especially for a young guy.”
His 200m speed is still a long way from Bolt’s world record of 19.19 seconds and his top 100m is a mere 10.14 seconds.
“But he eventually is going to be a dual threat,” Brauman said. “As he matures, his 100 is going to get better.”
Neither coach nor runner would predict how fast Lyles will eventually run, but Brauman was very clear about one point.
“He is going to be a really good one for a long time.”
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Christian Radnedge