Feature12 Apr 2016

Bydgoszcz-bound Lyles brothers set for big year


Josephus Lyles in the 200m at the IAAF World Youth Championships Cali 2015 (© Getty Images)

For the past three seasons, US high school speedsters have had numerous chances to observe the sprinting prowess of Noah and Josephus Lyles – most often while well behind the brothers from Virginia.

But in 2015, young sprinters from around the globe also got their best opportunities yet to race the siblings. And while the US Olympic Trials loom large in their future visions, so do the IAAF World U20 Championships Bydgoszcz 2016 in July.

“We both want to run at the USA Trials,” said 18-year-old Noah. “I’m qualified in both sprints but Josephus is just a little short in the 400m. But even if we both don’t make the Trials, we want to run the National Juniors and then go to the World Juniors.”

“Hey, we want to go to the Trials and make the US team,” added 17-year-old Josephus. “But the World Juniors are important, too. It will be my second time there and Noah’s first.”

The day the IAAF World Junior Championships Oregon 2014 opened on 22 July, Josephus turned 16 to become eligible for the competition. “I was the youngest member of the team,” he recalls. “Running with older athletes with more experience taught me a lot about training and competing at that level.”

He learned well, leading off the US squad that captured the 4x400m title in 3:03.31. His 46.6 leg was the fastest opening split of the race.

Noah made his international debut in 2013 at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Donetsk, although he didn’t make the 200m final. “Before the trip, I felt a little scared and nervous,” he said. “But when I got home I told myself that I could make an international team in 2014 – and I would come in first.”

Good to his word, Noah made the team for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games and claimed the 200m gold in 20.80 after clocking a then-PB of 20.71 in his heat.

Those experiences set up the brothers for their stellar 2015 seasons. Noah won US junior titles at both 100m and 200m, his 10.14 and 20.18 efforts moving him to 30th and eighth respectively on the world U20 all-time lists.

He capped his summer by winning the Pan-American junior 200m title in 20.27 after taking silver in the 100m in 10.18, just 0.01 off the gold medal.

As Noah won his US junior titles – part of a campaign that earned him High School Athlete of the Year honours from US magazine Track & Field News – Josephus was preparing for the IAAF World Youth Championships Cali 2015.

He contested both his 400m specialty and the 200m in the Colombian city, lowering his one-lap PB to 45.46 to grab the silver medal and move to ninth on the world U18 all-time list. He then came back to claim third in the 200m, timing another PB at 20.74.

“I always know Josephus will go out there and give his best,” said Noah.

Strong family foundations

Even though Noah is a year older than his brother, they are both in their final year of high school. “When I was in second grade, I was very sick with asthma and my parents held me back because I missed so many days of school,” said Noah. “The asthma is under control now, although my allergies still kick up sometimes.”

The brotherly ties of the pair run deep. They are the sons of 400m runners Kevin Lyles and Keisha Caine Lyles. Kevin has a 45.01 PB and won gold in the 4x400m at the 1995 IAAF World Championships. Keisha was an NCAA 400m finalist indoors and out in 1995.

“Our parents pretty much let us do whatever sports we wanted,” says Josephus. So they tried basketball, soccer, swimming and gymnastics. But it was athletics that most captured their attention by the time they entered TC Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from the US capital of Washington, DC.

“I always liked the individual aspect of athletics,” says Noah, who also set a high jump PB this winter at 2.03m.

Yet TCW head coach Michael Hughes points out that the Lyles are great team players. “They both are natural leaders,” said Hughes. “You could write volumes about their work ethics. They are very dedicated, yet level-headed, which is a great asset in sprinters. Our sprint coach, Rayshawn Jackson, has done a great job with them.”

Both brothers aimed to peak last year at the late-season title meetings. Josephus got his first sub-46.0 clocking at 45.99 to claim his second consecutive win at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro in mid-June. A week later, he won the 400m at US World Youth Trials with another PB, 45.77, and finished second in the 200m.

Noah wanted to peak a little later, at the early-August Pan-Am Juniors in Edmonton. But he still scored a 10.21/20.54 double in Greensboro to preface his US Juniors pairing as well as his Pan-Am showing.

This winter, their winning ways continued. At the New Balance Indoor Nationals, Josephus sped to a PB of 6.65 to take the 60m title, while Noah blazed over one lap in New York’s Armory in 20.63 to trim 0.06 off the US indoor high school record, moving to seventh on the world U20 indoor all-time list.

Their outdoor seasons have started well, too, with Noah winning the 100m and 200m double at last weekend’s Arcadia High School Invitational in 10.17 and 20.48, while Josephus finished second in the 400m in 45.94. To put those times into context, Noah opened with 10.53 and 21.62 in 2015 while Josephus clocked 47.73 in his first outdoor 400m race of 2015.

All of which sets the stage for what promises to be headline-making 2016 summer campaigns for the pair. And it is certain they will be cheering on each other.

As Noah says, full of pride: “It’s just so exciting to watch your brother run.”

Jon Hendershott for the IAAF