By Gene Cherry
CLERMONT, Fla. (Reuters) – The rain buffets the training camp tent as Noah Lyles offers up a hip-hop song that has been on his mind.
The steady rhythm of the rain and the American sprinter’s rapping travel to a different beat, as does Lyles, who, with Usain Bolt’s retirement, has become one of the most talked-about athletes in track and field.
Just 21 years old, he relishes running and a multitude of other activities, too many some have told him.
But this is Lyles, the free spirit who in the past few months has strolled down the runway at a Paris fashion show, painted his own special touch on a pair of shoes for his mother’s birthday and offered up designs for Boston Marathon T-shirts.
He has also cut extended play versions of his favourite hip-hop music and found time to become the man experts predict will be the next 200m gold medalist at September’s world championships in Doha and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I am really just being me,” Lyles, who has never competed in a world championships or Olympics, told Reuters after a long workout.
“I have always been into art, I have always been into clothes and recently it (music) has become one of my favourite hobbies,” he said.
“I have always liked things that had to do with sound and making something beautiful in any form of art.
“Running has just come naturally and now that I have a great coach and amazing staff and a great mom, it has come easier and easier and more fun.”
There is no doubt about the fun part and his success in the 200m in which he has not lost since 2016.
And victory usually means a show, maybe a few back flips or special dance moves.
“Too many people go out and they are just here to get business done,” the twice Diamond League 200m champion said.
“When you put on a show, you are expressing your inner emotion, you are expressing what you love, the love you have for the sport, the love you have for your life, the love you have for the people who helped you get there,” he added.
“Just running, that’s boring.”
But boring would never be a word to describe this former high jumper who forsook the family tradition of being 400m runners to learn the short sprints.
Always animated and outgoing, the combination, along with his speed, brings out comparisons with Bolt, especially since their events are the 100 and 200m and Bolt and Lyles are the only two sprinters to run four 200m in 19.7 seconds or less in the same season.
Yet Lance Brauman, Lyles’s coach, frowns at such comparisons.
“There might be some similarities,” the coach told Reuters. “But there are similarities in different ways with a lot of different guys. I want him to be the first Noah Lyles.”
That would suit Lyles just fine.
“They (the media) are always going to be looking for the next something,” said the sprinter who has personal bests of 19.65 in the 200m and 9.88 in the 100m.
“I say wait, somebody is going to pull it out,” he said, predicting Bolt’s seemingly invincible 100 meters world record of 9.58 and 200m mark of 19.19 would eventually fall.
“If I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t be here right now. I have dreams where I run 9.41. I have ideas where I run 18 seconds. But truthfully you are just going to wait.”
The Jamaican and the American have met only once.
“We were both in the doctor’s office in 2017,” Lyles said. “He looked more beat up than me so I just decided I was going to go say ‘Hey, you are an amazing athlete’. I just left it at that.”
Lyles and his younger brother Josephus, a talented 400m runner, live together in a new home in Clermont.
Josephus is the cook and enforcer.
“If it was up to him we would probably eating cereal every night,” Josephus said.
Boxes of running shoes occupy one closet and upstairs there is what Noah calls his creative room.
A full array of paints sit beside a table and Noah the rapper records his hip-hop in his own little studio.
“I loved music since I was little,” Lyles said. “I always listen to different things, find different artists, songs that express emotion.”
Banter flies between the brothers and their mother as visitors share a meal and view Noah’s Lego collection.
Since they were children, the brothers have dreamed of competing in an Olympics together.
Noah came close in 2016, missing by one spot making the U.S. team for Rio in the 200m, and his mum sees the dream becoming a reality in Tokyo.
“I predict Noah will win the 200 and Josephus will medal in the 400,” Keshia Bishop said.
Noah wants more.
“Three golds,” he said, convinced that by 2020 he will be ready to claim the 100, 200 and 4×100m relay titles, a feat Bolt achieved three times and Carl Lewis was the last American to accomplish in 1984.
(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Clermont, Florida, editing by Ed Osmond)