Other Sports Olympics Lyles on four gold mission to light up Paris
Other Sports Olympics Lyles on four gold mission to light up Paris

Other Sports: Olympics-Lyles on four-gold mission to light up Paris

(Reuters) – Noah Lyles may or may not be the next Usain Bolt but the American sprinter understands better than most that anyone who wants the job as the face of world athletics requires a combination of charisma and talent.

Ever since Bolt retired nearly seven years ago athletics, without much success, has been searching for the Jamaican’s successor.

The sport is littered with interesting characters but record setting shot putters and steeplechasers do not hold global fascination.

The mythical title of world’s fastest man is what grabs attention and if accomplished with panache and flair even better.

Bolt brought a magnetic personality and other worldly speed to the track that produced a treasure trove of gold medals, including eight mined from three Olympics and records that still stand, while becoming an international celebrity.

It is that bar Lyles confronts at the Paris Olympics where he is already being positioned as athletics’ front man.

From a marketing standpoint Lyles ticks all the boxes.

The American speedster is a natural showman who embraces the spotlight, speaks his mind, knows how to make an entrance and is as comfortable on a Paris fashion runway as the starting blocks.

But compared to Bolt his work on the track is thin.

He sped to three gold (100m, 200m, 4x100m) at last year’s world championships in Budapest but took a single bronze at his only Olympics so far, hardly the resume that fires up fan interest.

On the 100 metre all-time rankings Lyles sits well down the list tied for 15th with a career best of 9.83, seconds not anywhere near the class of Bolt’s world record of 9.58.

Six Americans have run faster, including current rivals Christian Coleman (2019 100m world champion) and Fred Kerley (2022 100m world champion).

If you have not yet produced eye-catching times then set outrageous goals.

For Lyles that is expanding his sprinting repertoire to include the 400m which will allow the 26-year-old a chance to grab a relay spot and a shot at four golds on the track in Paris (100m, 200m, 4x100m and 4x400m), something not even the great Bolt managed.

‘THIS ISN’T A JOKE’

Only two men have claimed four athletics golds at a single Olympics, Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis but their hauls included wins in the long jump not on the track.

The sprinter coming closest to that feat was American Florence Griffith Joyner at the 1988 Seoul Olympics where she won the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay and silver in the 4x400m.

“I’m serious,” Lyles told Reuters. “I just ran the 4x400m in Glasgow (Indoor world championships), and I felt that was definitely one of my ways of saying that this isn’t a joke.

“A lot of people thought I was just doing it for headlines. But, no. I’m full force going in.

“I learned very early on how to play the game, as you might call it, moving the needle forward and being marketable helps a lot.

“If you believe that only getting medals is going to make everybody like you or make everybody want to do business with you. Unfortunately, that’s not all it takes.”

Sponsors are paying attention.

Adidas recently updated their contract with Lyles signing him to a reported $10 million deal that the athletic apparel giant says is “the richest in the sport of track and field since the retirement of Usain Bolt.”

Energy drink Celsius is the latest to jump on board the Lyles bandwagon, the company announcing on Monday a partnership with the sprinter.

“The athletes need the sport, and the sport needs the athletes,” summed up Lyles. “I can only do my job and what I believe is good for the sport.

“I think that’s personality.

“I can’t tell you how many comments and people have come up to me in saying, ‘I didn’t even care about the 4×4 until you went to it.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, wow!’ That proves that a personality is needed to help push it along.

“Of course, the sport is interesting itself, but people need stories to connect with and I love telling stories.”

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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