As soon as the time of 18.90sec came up for the 200 metres during last month’s Inspiration Games - almost three tenths of a second faster than the world record of 19.19 set at the 2009 World Championships by Usain Bolt - it appeared obvious that something was amiss.
Commentator Steve Cram wasn’t fooled for a second. "That can’t be right," he said, and within a couple of minutes his judgement was confirmed as it transpired that the start point for this race under social-distancing rules had been 15 metres further forward than it should have been.
It was nevertheless a startlingly good performance by the then-22-year-old world 200m champion Noah Lyles considering he was running into a 3.7 metres-per-second headwind at his training base in Bradenton, Florida. And surely a 185m world best.
"I’ve been working really hard on running the bend and that felt fast," said Lyles, who lowered his 200m personal best to 19.50 last year and will seek to double with the 100m at next year’s planned Tokyo Olympics.
Bolt’s superlative mark is still a long way off for Lyles - who like the legendary Jamaican has always preferred the longer sprint to the 100 metres. But if you had to indicate the runner most likely to challenge it, your finger would be pointing unerringly to this ebullient product of Gainesville in Florida.
And if there was a single runner who would give you a moment’s pause when they registered that mark, a momentary thought of "surely he can’t have?’", it is Lyles. Such is his overabundant talent.
At the age of 23 - his birthday is on July 18 - Lyles has already secured three consecutive Diamond League titles over 200m, as well as winning last year’s 100m final in Zürich. And he has established himself as one of the go-to names for World Athletics in terms of representing his sport.
Along with other shining lights such as Norway’s double 400m hurdles world champion Karsten Warholm, newly established world pole vault record holder Armand "Mondo" Duplantis and Britain’s world 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith, Lyles is in the vanguard of young, articulate and super-talented athletes of the moment.
That is why it came as such a shock today to see his statement about his mental health.
"Recently I decided to get on antidepressant medication," he tweeted. "That was one of the best decisions I have made in a while. Since then I have been able to think without the dark undertone in mind of nothing matters. Thank you God for mental Health."
The reaction of American college cross country coach Peter Early to this news will no doubt have been widely shared: "I doubt anyone would have thought 'Noah Lyles seems depressed'," he tweeted. "Which shows how these things can literally impact anyone. Do not be afraid to ask for help people."
Of course there is no logic in mental health. The logic of - 'I am a superbly gifted athlete with a natural exuberance and talent, and the world to look forward to, so therefore I will have no reason to be depressed' - does not apply. It doesn’t work like that…
It is true that Lyles has put himself under a certain degree of pressure simply by dint of his own rapidly improving sprint performances. But he has always appeared to revel in the whole business.
Recently I decided to get on antidepressant medication. That was one of the best decisions I have made in a while. Since then I have been able to think with out the dark undertone in mind of nothing matters.— Noah Lyles (@LylesNoah) August 2, 2020
Thank you God for mental Health 🙏🏾
On his 21st birthday, speaking on the eve of the Diamond League meeting in Monaco, Lyles responded thoughtfully to questions about the shape of his event following the previous year’s retirement of Bolt.
"This is a very strong moment happening right now," he said. "We are watching a lot of people shift over and young guys taking over. Truthfully it is something very exciting to be part of. I am really happy to be one of the forerunners pushing to be the best…"
Asked if he thought there would be another figure dominating track and field in the way Bolt had, he responded: "That’s a hard question. I don’t think it’s going to be one of those sports that is dominated by one person. Every event will have a lot of fast people - but I do want to be at the forefront of those dominating people."
That is an ambition he has managed with increasing ease. Meanwhile he has developed a natural flamboyance on and off the track - something he also referenced during that Monaco press conference.
"I’ve always been that kind of guy," he said. "I love to perform. It’s just about having fun in the moment. Being yourself is the best thing you can do. We had Bolt who was doing it - and you could see the people enjoying it.
"In Lausanne this year it was the first time they expected me to dance so I ended up doing it because they were asking me. I thought 'This is really cool, because now I have fans that know I like to dance and now they expect me to start dancing.'
"I guess it goes back to performing - I am in love with performing. One of my dreams is to become a rapper, maybe after my track career or even during."
At the time I heard this, I wondered momentarily if he was giving out too much of himself, of his youthful dreams and aspirations. To be so honest can also risk making yourself vulnerable.
Lyles’ natural ebullience has not been welcomed by every competitor - and he has had particular short shrift from the current world 100m champion, fellow American Christian Coleman. The latter, two years Lyles’ senior, is currently facing a two-year suspension for anti-doping whereabouts failures - a problem he narrowly evaded shortly before last year’s World Athletics Championships.
When Lyles narrowly beat Coleman over 100m in the Shanghai Diamond League meeting early last season - by 9.852 to 9.858 - he marked what was a personal best in the event by posting on Instagram that it was the start of his legacy as a 100m and 200m sprinter.
That didn’t go down too well with the 100m specialist.
"Some of y’all got the game messed up," tweeted Coleman, who had a best of 9.79 which he has since improved to 9.76.
"The name of the game is World medals. But PR in in May is cool for social media doe."
The following day, Coleman added: "Seems as if some people are confused. It’s nothing wrong with a PR. But if your goal is to run fast in May to taunt and flex online then your priorities aren’t straight imo [in my opinion]. The season is just getting started."
Asked to describe his relationship with Coleman, whom he has faced since junior competition in 2015, Lyles replied: "It’s not good! I don’t know man. He just never liked me. I don’t know. You can’t like everybody."
This is not for a moment to suggest that track rivalry - a normal, ever-present feature of the sport - has had anything to do the mental-health adjustments Lyles has had to make. Again, that’s not how it works…
But if you admired Lyles for the way he has represented his sport in recent seasons, you will admire him even more now for his new disclosure. The message is clear - if Noah Lyles can get depressed, anyone can get depressed. There is no shame in it, no blame in it. It’s just a fact - and there are ways of addressing it.
That is a message which really might help others who find themselves in a similar position. Lyles deserves another gold to add to his growing collection - for honesty.