Noah Lyles on Winning Bronze After Tough Year: 'Just Because I'm Struggling Doesn't Mean I'm Going to Quit'

Track and field athlete Noah Lyles was competing in an Olympic Games for the first time when he won a bronze medal

After Noah Lyles won his bronze Olympic medal in the men's 200m last week, he was emotional.

Lyles, 24, had grappled with his mental health throughout 2020 amid the postponement of the Tokyo Games and the murder of George Floyd in America, the track and field athlete told reporters in Japan.

He said he started — and then stopped — taking anti-depressants in 2020, which affected his performance, according to The Washington Post.

Asked by PEOPLE in an interview about how he pushed through to make it to the Olympic podium, Lyles — who was speaking in his capacity as an OMEGA ambassador at the watch brand's on-site space in Tokyo — says, "Short answer is, I have a great team."

"They are very supportive and always looking out for me, even when I don't see it," Lyles continues. "And then the second thing is, now I'm a fighter. And that's how I made it this far, in fact. Just because I'm struggling doesn't mean that I'm going to quit."

Lyles, a first-time Olympian, says he's "very adamant that I don't believe in really giving up or failing is not succeeding. It's when you have completely stopped and give it up and not give your all."

Noah Lyles
Noah Lyles. Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

The sprinter's candor about his mental health is in line with many of the athletes at this year's Games. Naomi Osaka returned to elite tennis in Japan after a two-month break as she revealed a battle with depression, and gymnast Simone Biles opted out of all but one of her individual events as she prioritized mental wellness while dealing with the onset of the "twisties."

"It definitely is a moment where a lot of people can look back and say, 'Oh, these athletes actually have feelings,' " Lyles told reporters during the OMEGA chat. "Because I've been very vocal of, I'm a human being, I'm not a superhero, I have feelings, I have emotions."

"Just because I go out there and run fast doesn't mean that I don't come home and hurt and get tired and want to go have fun," he said.

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Athletes, Lyles said, often get put on a "humongous pedestal" when "in all actuality, we all have gifts and abilities, and it's just we found our ability and we honed it, really worked at it. But anybody can do that. Finding your gift and honing it and putting all into it. You can do that. And of course, sometimes some gifts are praised more than others, but that doesn't mean it's less important."

Speaking with reporters immediately after his medal-winning 200m run on Aug. 4, Lyles also got emotional to the point of tears about sharing his Olympic dream with his brother, fellow elite track and field athlete Josephus Lyles, who did not make Team USA for these Games, the Washington Post reported.

Noah tells PEOPLE at OMEGA that there's "not a day" he doesn't remember Josephus "being there."

He says, "We've been together, forever. And we've now grown on this journey of making the Olympic team together. We were planning to go and make it in 2016. I got fourth. Unfortunately, he got injured that year. And then we came into 2021 and he only made to the semifinals."

With family members also not allowed to attend the Games due to the coronavirus pandemic, "it's been very hard," Noah admits (though, he laughs, his mom has been calling him "three times a day.").

"I know that I miss sharing moments with them, especially right now, which is probably one of the bigger moments of my life. And I know they miss me too," he says. "So it's definitely something that you want to share a moment like this, have somebody to attach to and be like, 'We did this. We've been through the journey together.' "

To learn more about Team USA, visit Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.

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