It was supposed to be the year that Noah Lyles made the leap from elite American sprinter to international Olympic superstar.
Instead, he will remember it as the year he resorted to training on grass fields, and was left to wonder why so many people felt the need to hoard toilet paper.
"You expect to see the milk gone and the water gone, some cereal and stuff," the 23-year-old said with a laugh Friday. "But toilet paper? Goodness gracious! What are y’all doing with all that toilet paper?"
Since the COVID-19 pandemic first reached American shores almost a year ago, Lyles has pared down his competition schedule and dedicated himself to training. But now, like so many Olympic athletes around the world, he is starting to work with an eye toward this summer's Tokyo Games, even as uncertainty around the event continues to swirl.
That is in part what brought Lyles to Staten Island on Saturday for the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix – his first indoor meet in nearly three years.
Lyles, who is favored to win multiple Olympic gold medals this summer, competed in the 200-meter dash for the first time this year and turned in a winning but disappointing time of 20.80 seconds. It was almost a full second slower than the 19.83 that he ran to win the 2019 world championships in Doha, Qatar.
Though the time wasn't up to his usual standard, Lyles – who also ran the 60-meter dash earlier Saturday – nevertheless viewed the competition as proof that his endurance-based training is working.
"To be honest, I still feel really great, even coming off of the 200. I could run like three more (races)," said Lyles, who wore socks adorned with the words "Dunder Mifflin" on Saturday in an apparent homage to "The Office."
"I actually feel strong, which is really what we were trying to get out of training."
Oct 1, 2019; Doha; Qatar; Noah Lyles (USA) poses with the United States flag after winning the 200m in 19.83 during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at Khalifa International Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-408287 ORIG FILE ID: 20191001_jel_al2_065.jpg (Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
Saturday marked just the sixth time that Lyles has competed since the start of the pandemic, and just the third event during that time that has been outside Florida, where he trains. In normal times, he said Friday, he probably would have competed in 10 or 11 meets around the world in the same period of time.
Lyles, who suffers from asthma, explained that competitions have taken on a different kind of weight amid COVID-19, with each event becoming a calculated risk. Each one comes with its own testing regimen before and after, and the possibility that a close contact could interrupt his training schedule.
The reigning 200-meter world champion said that's one of the reasons why he will likely be more selective in when and where he competes in the coming months.
"Our thought for the rest of the year is as much as we can stay in the U.S., and as much as we can stay close to home, (that’s) preferably how we would like it," Lyles said. "We don’t know how things are going to go with the Olympics. As of now, they’re on, so we’re training for them."
Lyles said Friday that he hasn't seen the COVID-19 protocols that Olympic organizers released recently, the so-called "playbooks" that will dictate the day-to-day rules for various groups at the Games. Nor does he have any sense of what the Games will look like this summer.
"Technically, that’s not my job," he said with a smile.
After his Olympic dreams were delayed by a year, Lyles said he'll take the necessary safety steps to be in Tokyo this summer – whether those restrictions include testing, traveling, quarantining, vaccination or any reasonable combination therein.
"To be honest, as long as we can run, I don’t really care how it is," Lyles said. "There can be no fans. There can be some fans. As long as the COVID tests are done really well, or if they make most people get the vaccine, something along those lines – that’s probably how I would see it going along.
"But again, that’s not really my job. That’s somebody else’s job to take care of."
Saturday's meet also featured a number of record-setting performances from other Olympic hopefuls, including reigning world champion Donavan Brazier, who ran the 800 meters in 1 minute, 44.21 seconds and bested his own American indoor record by the slimmest of margins: 0.01 seconds.
Elle Purrier smashed the American indoor two-mile record, finishing in 9:10:28, while Bryce Hoppel also set a new national mark at 1,000 meters with a time of 2:16.27.
Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
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