Carjay Lyles' cast of characters makes Missouri track compelling

Saturday, April 12, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Missouri sprints and horizontal jumps coach Carjay Lyles has no shortage of personality among his top athletes.

Last weekend, his top female sprinter, Jacqueline Obi, approached him with a morbid joke.

She asked him, jokingly, if she was going to die.

She went on. Lyles said Obi told him that she had a rash on her neck but could feel it in her feet. 

“She’s so sincere in her symptoms that it keeps it funny and keeps it light,” Lyles said. “If it weren’t for Jacki, I don’t know what I’d do sometimes.”

Obi loves to talk and is often loud, and sometimes she’ll step on Lyles’ nerves to the point where he can’t deal with her.

And though Lyles said he sometimes wants to kick her out of practice, he seems to love Obi, which she said can be hard to do.

“It takes a lot to deal with me," Obi said. “I think I’m crazy, but I love it.”

Although they are never dull, Obi’s eyes absolutely light up when she talks about her favorite coach.

“Carjay’s like the whole package,” Obi said. “We have a fabulous relationship. I love him. He’s like the best coach I’ve had in my life.”

While the rash might have been a farce, Obi has had to deal with her fair share of legitimate ailments.

The talented Atlanta-area product had trouble competing her senior year of high school because of pneumonia and was unable to compete as a freshman at Georgia State University last year because of a strained hip flexor.

Obi showed promise indoors this winter, including a great time in the 200-meter dash at the Southeastern Conference Indoor Championships that was taken away because of a lane violation disqualification.

Lyles called her one of the most talented sprinters Missouri’s had in years and said he is extremely excited to see what she can do this spring.

Obi ran her best event, the 200-meter dash, in 25.00 seconds last weekend at the Crimson Tide Invitational in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

She will have to take three seconds off of that time to position herself to qualify for the NCAA’s West Regional meet, but both Obi and Lyles expect her to be able to accomplish that by season’s end.

The quest to knock time off begins Saturday at the Missouri Relays at Audrey J. Walton Stadium in Columbia. Field events begin at 1 p.m. and track events will start at 2:30.

Carjay's confident triple jumpers

Two of the West Region’s top triple jumpers will also be on display Saturday: Missouri’s Jonathan Ilori and Tony Carodine.  Ilori currently has the West’s second best mark at 15.41 meters, and Carodine is close behind in seventh with a 15.36-meter jump.

Two inches separate the marks. About 4,751 miles separate the high schools the two athletes attended.

Jonathon, who is British, and Carodine, an American, have “polar-opposite” personalities, Lyles said. Ilori is extremely confident and has admittedly butted heads with Lyles. His boisterous personality can give Obi’s a run for its money at times.

“I’m a pretty mature athlete so when a coach asks me to do something, I’m going to ask, I’m going to question,” Ilori said. “I’m independent a lot of the time. If I don’t feel like doing something, I won’t do it.”

Carodine, on the other hand, rarely butts heads with his coach.

“Tony is the most dedicated athlete I have, and it’s going to pay off in a major way,” Lyles said.

The triple jump is the event Lyles knows best, and his relationship with Ilori and Carodine has just as many quirks as his relationship with Obi. 

The three get along well, and both Ilori and Carodine said beating the competition is much more important than beating each other.

Lyles, though, loves to use their contrasting styles and their desire to beat each other to help the pair improve. 

Whenever the squad of jumpers splits up for practice, Ilori and Carodine are always separated, a technique Carodine said fuels him to work extra hard.

“When we’re by ourselves, you don’t know what your opponent’s doing,” Carodine said. “So, I have to do everything I can and then some.”

Sometimes, though, Lyles will keep the squad together for workouts and let Carodine and Ilori “beat up on each other.” 

The jumpers would argue that more often Lyles beats up on them.

After Ilori or Carodine complete a drill, Lyles will often "talk smack" in an attempt to keep the atmosphere light and his athletes working hard.

The real beating, though, comes from Lyles' brutal workouts. 

Ilori said that on March 31, his legs were done after the first of the practice’s four drills, and he was ready to take my shoes off and relax well before he was allowed to.

The two both said they see the difference the work makes, though, and they respect their coach’s resume.

Lyles was an All-American triple jumper at Tennessee before graduating in 2008.

He was then invited by 1984 triple jump gold medalist Al Joyner to train with him at the Olympic training facility in San Diego, Calif.

In his first professional meet, Lyles completely ruptured his patella tendon, ending his professional career the day it started.

Due to Lyles’ training he says the triple jump is an event “ain’t too many people going to be able to tell me about.”

The resume wasn’t quite enough to impress Ilori at first, though. Lyles said he had to show him his ability.

The first week of December 2013, Lyles challenged Ilori to a jump-off.

Lyles beat his student handily.

“Since that moment, he started listening and buying into the program,” Lyles said.

Lyles was out of shape, and he admitted that the jump took quite a toll on his body.

“I waited until they left before I passed out and laid down for a little bit,” Lyles said.

He could feel it in his feet.

Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.

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