Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The next Usain Bolt? Erriyon Knighton is not intimidated by comparisons and expectations

But for a rolling thumb, the fastest teenager in the world, this time, was motionless.

Erriyon Knighton had just slipped from a late-May press conference here to an adjoining empty hotel meeting space, where he sat in a director’s chair, slouching in Adidas athleisure. Knighton has grown accustomed to the 18-year-old since he finished fourth in the 200m at the Tokyo Olympics with a time of 19.49 seconds and then finished the fourth fastest ever in February at 19.49 seconds. some different questions. One theme – what’s it like to be so fast, so young?

When asked how he would interview himself, he looked up from his phone in the quiet room and smiled intrigued.

“I might ask, ‘What are you doing on meet day and what are you listening to to hype?'” Knighton said. “‘Have you ever been scared?’ Yes, that’s a good one. Because I’m damn sure not scared.”

Sky-high expectations, comparisons to Usain Bolt — Knighton isn’t running away from either, as the USA Track and Field Championships start this week at Hayward Field in Eugene, where Knighton could be at the World Outdoors in July seats. 100m or 200m top three.

“He has nothing to fear,” said Ato Boldon, an NBC sports analyst and four-time Olympic sprinter. “If you look back at his Olympic trials last year, it’s almost like yes, I respect Noah [Lyles] And those with names, but I don’t have to beat them, they have to beat me. “

Knighton’s real outbursts on the track have in some ways put him in a different game — one in which the two have improved year by year with Bolt, the sport’s eight-time Olympic pacer. Gold medal bearer, he himself is a tall teenage prodigy. Bolt’s under-18 and under-20 world records for the 200m now belong to Knighton.

In 2003, by age 16, Bolt ran the 200 in 20.13; Knighton in 20.33. By the age of 17, Bolt had improved to 19.93, compared with Knighton’s 19.84 last year. Bolt’s best score at 18 was 19.99. Knighton broke that in February with his 19.49 time in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which Bolton initially thought was a misreported figure.

“Nobody’s going to run 19.4, certainly not Erriyon Knighton,” recalls Boldon. “Then I saw the tape and I went to OMG – look at this kid!”

Center Erriyon Knighton competes in the men’s 200-meter warm-up at the Tokyo Summer Olympics on August 3.

(Peter David Joseph/The Associated Press)

Only Bolt, Jamaican John Black and American Michael Johnson were faster than 200 meters in what Knighton called his “money event”. However, while Bolt set a world record of 19.19 the day before his 23rd birthday, Blake was 19.26 when he was 21 and Johnson was 28 when he set the then world record of 19.32 at the 1996 Olympics, Knighton is still taking courses in high school after his statement runs.

“Obviously, it’s cool compared to one of those — I’d say one of the greatest, and I mean the best ever,” Knighton said. “People compare me to him and I try not to think about it too much. At the end of the day, I’m not him, my name is not Usain Bolt, I’m Erriyon Knighton, I’m paving my way for myself every day, working hard become famous.”

How Knighton became famous seems to defy every rule of the youth sports industry complex, which seeks to shape future stars by offering rigorous training and traveling teams to the elementary school crowd.

Knighton said his family had no extra sports expenses when he was a child, so because of the discount, he played in his uncle’s youth soccer team. From August 13th to 13th, Knighton described a “huge gap of idleness” outside of middle school football.

“…Sometimes you have to take your chances. I mean, as you can see now, I took the right chances.”

— Erriyon Knighton, focusing on track and field instead of football

It wasn’t until he was a 14-year-old freshman that he seriously explored the possibilities of track and field, when Joseph Sipp, the football and track coach at Tampa Hillsboro (FL) High School, was training in football conditioning. Seeing his speed in the , insisted Knighton would be out.

“He kind of got into a fight with me about this, ‘I’m not a track and field athlete,'” Shipp told a film crew in his school district last year. “Athletics practice came and he didn’t show up. I went to him at school and said, ‘You’re here to compete, there’s no if, and or but, you’re competing and I don’t want to hear anything.'”

Just two years later, at the age of 16, he signed a professional contract with Adidas and began training under renowned Florida University coach Grant Holloway and high school coach Jonathan Terry in a deal that tested the height of 6. The foot-3 Knighton expects to use football as his ticket to the pros.

“I could risk track and field and go to the majors now, or I could wait four years and play football and then go to the NFL,” Knighton said of his considerations before giving up high school and college eligibility. “But I was like, sometimes you have to take your chances. I mean, as you can see now, I took the right chances.”

By last August, friends and teachers gathered at Hillsboro High to watch Knighton become the youngest American to finish in the top four in Olympic individual track and field since 1928, according to ESPN research.

Erriyon Knighton, center, competes for the men’s 200m heats at the Tokyo Olympics in August.

(Charlie Riddle/The Associated Press)

Bolton said he hopes Knighton’s example will lead other fast-football-focused athletes to consider track and field’s path to the pros. He also knows Knighton’s quick start doesn’t predict his time will continue to fall and his medal tally will increase, saying the track and field’s under-18 and under-20 record books are full of those who peaked as teenagers. . Every sport has such cautionary tales, but “in track and field, we’re pretty much known for it,” Bolton said.

“But that [future] When I saw him, I didn’t think about it because to me, I feel like this kid starts at 19.4,” Bolden said. “He’s really behind three guys in the history of the tournament. Let’s say he doesn’t get 100% of what he has, let’s say he gets 90%.

“If he gets 90 percent of what I think he has, he should be the world record holder before it’s all said and done.”

Bolt has ruled three Summer Olympics, from Beijing to London to Rio de Janeiro. If Knighton makes three consecutive Olympic teams, he’ll arrive in Los Angeles in 2028, and he’s still only 24 — and there may still be time for NFL opportunities afterward, like two-time Olympic hurdler Devin Allen with Philadelphia The Eagles though haven’t played football since 2016.

Knighton has only recently started lifting weights for strength. In acknowledging his rookie status, he said he learns something about sprinting every day. However, he has said his rivals should know a lot about him. In a sport filled with stories of older sprinters trying to intimidate younger runners in call rooms, Knighton said no one had tried him in the minutes before the race.

“In that game, if you tried to intimidate me, it didn’t work,” he said. “You’re trying to get into my head and it’s not going to work. If you talk to me, I don’t say anything to you before the race, so you really have to see me on the track.

“You’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some, but at the end of the day, it’s just not being afraid to go into the game.”


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