With Olympics Postponed, Sprint Star Noah Lyles Gets a Taste of Cross Country Training
By Jonathan Gault
March 24, 2020
When Noah Lyles heard the news on Tuesday morning that the Tokyo Olympics had been postponed from their original dates of July 24 – August 9, 2020, until some yet-to-be-determined dates in 2021, he felt relief. As a storm of speculation swirled around the Games over the past week, Lyles, the reigning 200-meter world champion, had been growing anxious, uncertain of his fate. Plenty of uncertainty remains, of course, but there is comfort in knowing that you won’t have to prepare for the biggest event of your life while dodging dogwalkers.
Which is essentially what Lyles, 22, the fourth-fastest 200m man in history, has been reduced to in recent weeks. With tracks and training facilities closed around the world, Lyles and his training partners at PURE Athletics in Clermont, Fla., have been meeting in groups of six at a local park. His current training more closely resembles a cross country runner’s post-run drills session than that of a world-class sprinter.
“We can’t really sprint because we’re on grass,” Lyles says. “Grass has really taken out a lot of your speed, force into the ground. It’s kind of softer grass. So it’s really hard to basically do anything. And again, it’s a park area and it’s really like a trail. So it’s not so much an open field, more like random spots that are open in the woods. So it’s been very limited.
“We’ve found a spot for us to do drills and maybe do some warming up and just try running on the trail for maybe about 300 meters, tops. But there’s hills in the middle of that. So it’s not flat. You’re not going to be out going all-out on this trail, especially if you have people walking dogs and stuff like that.”
Lyles says that, before the COVID-19 outbreak forced him to adjust, he was training “really, really well.” His aim, as much as possible, is to maintain his fitness level for when he is allowed to return to competition, which he hopes will be in 2020.
“If the Diamond League or any of these bigger track meets decide that they’re going to be holding meets, we’ll train for that,” Lyles says (the first three Diamond League meets have already been postponed; the season is now tentatively scheduled to start in Stockholm on May 24). “Of course figuring out how we’re gonna get ready for the Olympics next year is our biggest plan, but we still want to maintain fitness and we still want to be able to have some type of a season…Just because [the] Olympics is gone doesn’t mean I don’t want to run. [My] first love is running, so I want to do that.”
Lyle Agrees With The IOC’s Decision
Lyles, with his sensational top-end speed, viral celebrations, and magnetic personality, was poised to become one of the breakout stars of the 2020 Games. Chasing the 100 and 200-meter crowns left vacant by the retired Usain Bolt, Lyles had more to gain, financially and athletically, than just about any athlete in Tokyo. Yet he applauded USATF and World Athletics’ calls for the Games to be postponed, which the IOC heeded.
“I think everybody’s been making real good safety decisions with the IOC and World Athletics now,” Lyles says. “And you even see USATF, they [are] very concerned about their athletes. It makes you feel good when your sport, your governing body is really on your side trying to make sure everybody gets fair play.
“…My first concern was that everybody would be healthy and that everybody would have a fair place to actually compete. So actually seeing it delayed gives me a bit of security that the Olympics is worried about everybody.”
With Tokyo pushed back until 2021, the global athletics calendar is very much up in the air. World Athletics has been in talks with the local organizing committee of the 2021 World Athletics Championships — scheduled to be held in the US for the first time, in Eugene, Ore., — about the possibility of postponing the meet, perhaps to 2022. Should that be the case, there would be five straight years — 2021 through 2025 — with an global outdoor track & field championships.
While that would come as a welcome sign to many fans, Lyles isn’t sure that a global-championships-every-year model is one he’d want to see long-term.
“If we continue to do this on a normal basis, some athletes might get burned out,” Lyles says. “A lot of athletes do need that year break just to settle down, to recover, maybe take a few track meets but not do the whole season. Personally, I think it would be a little too much.”
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