Olympic sprinter Noah Lyles' persona is more than a business move

CLERMONT, Fla. — Completing an Olympic sprinting workout under the Florida sun in front of a gaggle of cameras would be a creative form of punishment for the average person. For Noah Lyles, it’s a regular Wednesday.

The 26-year-old is almost always being filmed by two separate networks who are capturing content for "Untitled," a docuseries NBC Sports is currently airing and a Netflix project that has yet to be formally announced. Lyles also has a YouTube channel.

It's not hard to understand why Lyles, the reigning world champion in the 100 and 200 meters, is perfect for TV. Most know him as the guy who infuriated most of the NBA with his comments about who should call themselves world champions. Meanwhile, those who watch track and field have come to expect the theatrics that accompany his blisteringly fast performances. From ripping his shirt off after running the fastest 200 in American history, to gesturing as he passes 18-year-old opponents, Lyles normally has something planned for when he crosses the finish line.

A lot has been said about Lyles’ loud persona. Track fans have accused him of putting it on for attention. Fellow American sprinter Fred Kerley implied that Lyles' attitude has afforded him opportunities he doesn’t deserve. Lyles views it as part of his mission in the sport.

Retired Olympic legend Usain Bolt reinforced that idea when he approached him at the Racers Grand Prix in Kingston, Jamaica, this past summer. Of course, Lyles' cameras captured the exchange.

"Keep your same attitude, bro," Bolt told Lyles. "The sport needs that s***. We need a personality."

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MARCH 03: Noah Lyles of USA during the third day of the World Athletics Indoor Championships at the Emirates Arena, on March 03, 2024, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ross MacDonald/SNS Group via Getty Images)
Noah Lyles says he's aiming at Usain Bolt's 200-meter world record of 19.19 seconds. Lyles' goal: 19.10. (Photo by Ross MacDonald/SNS Group via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Lyles hosted a media day to roll out his new partnership with energy drink brand Celsius.

“They felt that they needed the world's fastest man. And that's my title,” Lyles said with a wide smile during an interview with Yahoo Sports. “Who doesn’t want to be the world’s fastest man?”

He'd been talking on-camera all day, during short breaks between reps of running and plyometrics. If you ask Lyles’ agent, Mark Wetmore, it’s just who he is.

“The first time I ever met him in 2016, his stated goal was to change the sport and become an icon in the sport,” Wetmore recalled. “He's the first athlete I've ever seen that puts himself out there like this. And I think he's given a voice to some other people too.”

While making his media rounds Wednesday, Lyles was days removed from World Indoor Championships in Glasgow, Scotland. There, he earned two silver medals in the 60-meter dash and the 4x400-meter relay.

Lyles caught some flack for running on the relay because he’d never competed in the event as a professional until that day. Team USA getting second seemed unavoidable, regardless of his 45.68-second split. Lyles still drew critiques, especially from Kerley, who accused USATF of playing favorites due to Lyles' "Olympic storyline."

“It's still very possible for you to do [what I did],” Lyles said in response to Kerley. “Do more interviews, become more marketable.”

Lyles added that he cares about the opinions only of his loved ones, which is why he keeps them close. The attendees of Lyles' media day featured his mother, Keisha Caine Bishop, and his girlfriend, Junelle Bromfield. Each watched Lyles under the shelter of an Adidas-sponsored shed on Wednesday. Caine Bishop is a Seton Hall track alum, while Bromfield competed in Jamaica’s mixed 4x400 meter relay during the 2020 Olympics.

Lyles' younger brother Joesphus wasn't there, but he remains a large part of the story. The siblings, who attended Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, were the first two U.S. male sprinters to turn professional right out of high school in 2016.

On Feb. 27, Adidas announced that Noah had been extended until 2028 to “the richest contract in the sport of track and field since the retirement of Usain Bolt.” The specifics of Lyles' deal weren't disclosed, which he said he didn't like. He argued that announcing numbers could help the sport's popularity to no avail. For what it's worth, Bolt’s final contract with Puma from 2014-17 was reportedly valued at around $10 million a year.

It’s safe to say that Lyles’ speed, paired with his personality, is paying off. Years ago, his agent worried it would all combine to create unnecessary pressure. Lyles has ADD and dyslexia. He has also been open about his struggle with depression during the 2020 Olympics, which saw him win 200-meter bronze in front of a crowd of cardboard cutouts.

But Wetmore has seen Lyles’ unyielding will to keep going. That’s why he supports every form of expression Lyles pursues, which has included walking the runway at Paris and Milan Fashion Weeks. When Lyles tried to create photo ops for athletes to show off their outfits as they arrived for their respective events at the 2023 World Championships in Budapest, Wetmore had to cool outside concerns that the idea would be a distraction.

Wetmore trusts Lyles' therapist, sports performance consultant Diana McNab. Lyles has worked with McNab since high school. They visualize his races every week and meet regularly about his life in general. She calls him a mental "savant."

The mental game helped Lyles become the 60-meter dash indoor US champion in February with a time of 6.43 seconds, a major improvement from his peak last year of 6.51. He is now aiming for Bolt’s 200-meter world record of 19.19 seconds. Having run 19.31, Lyles claims he's going to run 19.10. He plans to realize that goal sometime during his current pursuit of Paris Olympic gold.

“I'll probably go on social media. I’ll look at the haters, lovers, the headlines — probably whatever crazy thing I said,” Lyles said. “I hope that I'm excited and proud of myself no matter how it turns out. Because I know that I did my best.”