World Champions Donavan Brazier & Noah Lyles Speak Ahead of Monaco Diamond League

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By Jonathan Gault
August 13, 2020

Tomorrow Herculis meeting in Monaco represents the largest gathering of track & field talent anywhere in the world in 2020, with 13 reigning world champions set to compete in front of 5000 fans on the shores of the Mediterranean (and a global tv audience). LetsRun.com had the chance to be a part of a media Zoom call with two of those world champs, Americans Donavan Brazier and Noah Lyles, on Wednesday. Here are a few highlights from the call.

Donavan Brazier was worried he might not make it to Monaco, but now that he’s in Europe, he might stick around for a while

Brazier brook the indoor 800 AR at Millrose in February (Phil Bond photo)

Both Brazier and Lyles said that traveling to Monaco from the US required a negative COVID test before departing and a mountain of paperwork, but both safely arrived earlier this week. Brazier required three flights to get there — Portland to Dallas, Dallas to London and London to Nice — and admitted he was worried his party would be sent home once they landed in Europe. The US has registered over 5 million coronavirus cases and 160,000 deaths; both numbers are far away the most in the world.

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“America looks terrible right now when it comes to coronavirus,” Brazier said. “We have so many cases, it looks awful over here. I’d be scared of us too. We had Craig Engels, my teammate, wearing an American flag t-shirt, and I told him he was stupid for doing that because it just makes us look scary.”

In addition to Monaco, Brazier will compete at the Gyulai István Memorial meet in Hungary on August 19 and the Stockholm Diamond League on August 23, but said he’s open to extending his stay if things go well.

“I think it’s a lot safer to be over here than it is back in America right now, so I wouldn’t mind spending as much time as I can over in Europe if I can get races in, because I still feel fresh.”

Brazier said despite running 3:35 for 1500, he’s still only running 35 miles per week and getting dropped by Konstanze Klosterhalfen in tempos; he hopes to run the 4×400 for the US one day

Brazier ran 1:43.84 in his last race in the US, an 800 at the Big Friendly 3 on July 31, and while that’s the fastest 800 in the world this year, he said he was much happier about his previous race, a 3:35.85 1500 at the first Big Friendly in which he closed in 52 seconds for his last lap.

“I think it just showed my strength, especially given I’m not a high-mileage athlete,” Brazier said. “It gave me a lot of confidence for the 800, because I’m not sacrificing running 50, 60, 70 miles a week in order to get to that kind of shape…Believe it or not, even with me running 3:35 for the 1500, I think I was still in the best 400 shape at the time.”

Though Brazier admitted he was recently dropped by training partner Konstanze Klosterhalfen, the women’s World Championshp bronze medalist at 5,000 meters, in a two-mile tempo, his 1500 talent is obvious. And he knows the more he runs the 1500, the louder cries will grow for him to try the 800/1500 double at major championships. But that’s not the double he wants to attempt.

“I’d really, really love to get on a 4×400 team some day and I think the more I run these 1500s, the more it furthers me away from that goal of me trying to make a US team in the 4×400,” Brazier said. “So I’ve been trying to get [coach] Pete [Julian] to allow me to run more 400s…I’m going to have to try to get down to the open 400’s to prove my worth for an eventual 4×400 team for the US hopefully some day.”

Noah Lyles is peaking for Monaco

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From 2017-2018, Lyles either tied or broke his personal best for 200 meters in five of his first six Diamond League meets, culminating with a 19.65 pb in Monaco. But after lowering his best to 19.50 in Lausanne last summer — Lyles now sits at #4 on the all-time 200m list, behind only Usain BoltYohan Blake, and Michael Johnson — Lyles knows it’s no longer feasible to expect a personal best every time out.

“As I get faster and faster, it’s like, all right, I have to start choosing when I want to fire my rounds,” Lyles said. “I have to go in with, okay I know I’m going to run 19, but I never know where it will be unless I’m getting closer and closer to a championship. I don’t want to be trying to run super fast every track meet, because then I’m going to be putting myself in a situation where I’m peaking too early or peaking too late. So now I’ve definitely started zeroing in with my coach on which meets I want to run fast at.”

With no Olympics or US championships to shoot for this year, Lyles decided that Monaco would be the meet he would peak for this year. The timing fits — it’s one week after the Olympics would have fallen in a normal year — and the meet organizers offered some nice incentives.

“At the end of the day, I like to get paid, and Monaco is paying,” Lyles said. “So if they put a 200 together, great track, flying over, they’re making sure that everybody’s safe, I’m willing to come.”

Lyles believes the first half of his race has improved markedly

Lyles anchoring the US 4×100 to gold in Doha last year (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images for IAAF)

Lyles’ ability to hold his speed after reaching top gear is among the finest of any runner in history. But he knows if he is to ever seriously challenge Johnson’s 19.32 American record or Bolt’s 19.19 world record, the first half of his race must improve.

Slowly but surely, he believes it has been. Lyles said that when he joined coach Lance Brauman in 2016, his starts ranked him in the middle of the pack in his training group; now Lyles is one of the group’s best starters. Recently, he has been working on running a better turn.

“I’ve produced some of my fastest times now through that 120 area,” Lyles said. “The first 100 is probably where I’m going to make the most ground up in getting closer and closer to American records and world records. It’s definitely been improving.”

Lyles says he was in a dark place in April, but believes he is in a better place after getting on antidepressant medication

Lyles publicly appears as one of the most joyful runners on the circuit, so it came as a surprise earlier this month when he disclosed he had recently decided to start taking antidepressant medication.

Lyles said he has dealt with mental health issues since he was around eight years old and has met with a sports therapist and personal therapist in the past. But 2020 has been his most challenging year yet, and he saw no other solution than to begin taking medication.

“Probably around April is the hardest I’ve ever had to deal with it,” Lyles said. “I think it was kind of the perfect storm, dealing with COVID, having the Olympics postponed, to having okay, where am I putting my attention? Then with the Black Lives movement, that really was just the final nail in the coffin. It was just like, all right, I can’t do this anymore. My mom, she came down, and she was like, all right, I think it’s time to put you on medication. Because everything I’m doing that I used to do that worked is not working anymore.”

Lyles said he was surprised by the response to his admission — he couldn’t remember receiving more responses to a tweet — but was happy to spread the message of the importance of mental health.

“As long as it’s getting outreach and helping people, that’s a good thing.”

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