Home SportsOther Sports Erriyon Knighton could soon be faster than Usain Bolt ever was

Erriyon Knighton could soon be faster than Usain Bolt ever was

by YAR

TAMPA, Fla. — When Erriyon Knighton, a few months after his 18th birthday, became the fourth-fastest 200-meter runner in history on April 30, fellow sprinter Michael Cherry tweeted in awe: “That kid learned algebra the Monday”.

Knighton was still weeks away from graduating from high school when he ran a half-lap around the track in 19.49 seconds, slashing his own junior world record once held by Usain Bolt, at the LSU Invitational in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Knighton had turned professional in January 2021, days before his 17th birthday. Months later, he finished fourth in the 200 meters at the Tokyo Olympics, so his victory in this low-key competition was not unexpected. It was amazing how quickly Knighton crossed the finish line at such a young age.

He enters this weekend’s US track and field championships in Eugene, Oregon as the favorite and is expected to qualify for the world championships there in July, when he thinks he can win.

Unable to see the score immediately at Louisiana State, Knighton reacted with little emotion to his victory. He knew he had run fast, but he still didn’t know that his result was only bettered by three of the greatest sprinters of all time: Jamaica’s Bolt, the three-time 200m Olympic champion who holds the senior world record of 19.19. seconds; Yohan Blake of Jamaica, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist with a personal best of 19.26; and Michael Johnson of the United States, who won at the 1996 Olympics in 19.32.

Sprinting improvements most often occur in hundredths of a second, sliced ​​as thin as a carpaccio. But Knighton shaved more than three-tenths of a second off his previous best of 19.84. It might as well have been a minute in the world of elite athletics, especially given that it was his first 200m race of the season. Expectations that day were as dim as the tailwind.

Knighton expressed his surprise, saying that he didn’t think he would achieve that time until he was 20 or 21 years old. When his trainer, Mike Holloway, told him that he had run 19.49, he replied, “No, I didn’t.”

Why would I think otherwise? No teenager had ever run so fast. Not Bolt, not anyone.

As Knighton unfurled his 6-foot-3 frame from the starting blocks, he sometimes dragged his left or rear foot on the track. But he got away clean at the LSU meeting. Before he came out of the corner, the race was effectively over.

The track seemed to lean, as if it were leaning, as Knighton shot out of the turn, and he appeared to be racing downhill, landing as elite sprinters do just behind the balls of his feet, his heels seemingly never touching the ground. Head perfectly still, arms pumping but relaxed, a light breeze at his back, Knighton led the field away with each long stride.

The advantage of being tall, with long legs, allowed Knighton to take fewer strides than shorter sprinters, delaying his fatigue at the end of the race and allowing him to maintain a higher speed towards the finish line. His trainer marveled at the delicacy and suppleness of Knighton’s step. That is, how skillfully he absorbed the energy of the landing with a maximum force of about five times his body weight and quickly launched his body and feet backwards into the air.

The basic measure of speed is stride length multiplied by stride frequency. Elite sprinters typically hit the track and take off again in about nine-hundredths of a second.

“It’s almost like he’s a jumper,” said Holloway, who is the head coach at the University of Florida and was also the head coach of the US track and field team at the Tokyo Olympics.

At the Tokyo Games, Knighton, at 17, was the youngest American Olympian since renowned mile runner Jim Ryun in 1964. According to NBC, he became the youngest male track athlete to reach the final of an individual Olympic career in 125 years. If Knighton stays healthy and qualifies for the world championships in July, many will expect him to win a medal and possibly finish on top of the podium. When the 2024 Paris Olympics start, he will be 20 years old.

People often ask him if he wants to be the next Usain Bolt. The comparison is an honor, Knighton said, but no, he doesn’t want to be the next Bolt. He wants to be the best version of himself.

“I didn’t grow up with his name; I grew up with my name,” Knighton said recently over a quiet lunch with his other trainer, Jonathan Terry, who operates a track club in Tampa called My Brother’s Keeper. The conversation meandered from track and field to fast cars to the challenges of catching catfish.

At 18, Knighton hasn’t yet looked as closely under the hood of his in-house engine as he has under the hood of the $80,000 Dodge Hellcat he’d like to buy. He leaves the biomechanics to the trainers of him. He has higher thoughts. Sometimes during training, Knighton gazes into the distance, daydreaming. Terry has to say his name to break the reverie.

“I’m probably thinking about breaking the world record,” Knighton said.

Knighton is confident, diligent and fearless, impervious to fame, his trainers said. But international expectation is a heavy weight to put on the narrow shoulders of a teenage sprinter, no matter how precocious. So the Knighton camp is trying to make it faster, actually slowing it down.

He’s been talked out of the Hellcat, with its exorbitant insurance premiums. His training is low volume. He has done relatively little weightlifting to complete his 164-pound frame. He has only run four races this season. As a precaution, he withdrew from a competition in New York in early June after feeling a slight twinge in his lower back during training.

It was not serious, Knighton said. He just didn’t want him to get serious.

“If we want to have longevity in the sport, we can’t beat him,” Holloway said, noting that the Jamaicans also carefully developed Bolt. “People forget that Bolt was really good at 16 and 17 years old and when he was 21, 22, he was unbeatable.”

Knighton has to look no further than fellow Olympian Trayvon Bromell, another former Florida high school sprint star, to realize the possibility and fragility of world-class speed.

In 2014, Bromell, from nearby St. Petersburg, became the first junior sprinter to run the 100 meters in under 10 seconds (9.97), while winning an NCAA title at Baylor University. He also won a bronze medal over that distance at the 2015 world championships in athletics. But Bromell tore his Achilles tendon at the 2016 Rio Olympics and fell short of the 100m final in Tokyo despite being favorite. for the gold medal.

“It can go wrong in many ways,” said Peter Weyand, a biomechanics expert at Southern Methodist University who researches elite sprinters. “Bolt is the classic story of the ingredients you need to make things work: strong family support, friends, really good, stable management, and good coaching.”

If Knighton avoids serious injury and maintains a strong support structure, while his career continues on a normal trajectory, Weyand said, it seems likely that he will break Bolt’s 200-meter record of 19.19, once considered untouchable. “I think the bet would be that I could probably do it,” he said. “Shoot, he’s almost half a second faster than Bolt at the same age. He is crazy. He is a phenomenon.

Knighton’s track career began in 2019 during his freshman year at Hillsborough High School in Tampa, at the suggestion of an assistant football coach. He continued to play football during his junior season as a wide receiver and safety who could squat 500 pounds and deadlift 450. Southeastern Conference powers, including Georgia and Alabama, showed interest. However, his professional path deviated from the soccer fields to the tracks built around him.

As a 16-year-old at the 2020 Junior Olympics, Knighton ran the 100 meters in 10.29 and the 200 in 20.33, a national age-group record. In January 2021, months before the Tokyo Games, he turned professional, signed a contract with Adidas and hired John Regis, a three-time British Olympian and British record holder in the 200m, as one of his agents. .

“He was running what the pros ran,” Knighton said. “I thought if he got a little more training, he might be one of them.”

At the Olympic trials last June, he twice broke Bolt’s junior world record in the 200 meters, posting a career best time of 19.84. To watch Knighton run the 200m Olympic final from Tokyo in August, some 500 people gathered at a party at Hillsborough High, cheering and waving flags.

“Students, teachers, cafeteria workers, janitors, the place blew up,” said Eric Brooks, the school’s athletic director.

Knighton finished fourth in 19.93, an impressive performance for a teenager. When a television camera caught up with him, he crouched in the road and smiled, but it was a smile of contemplation of what he might have been. His start was flawed and he was unable to match the power of the medalists down the stretch. “I didn’t think he was strong enough,” he said.

Holloway, the head Olympic track and field coach, spoke with Knighton after the race. The teenager was deflated. He thought that he could win. Holloway told her, “I don’t want you to ever forget how you feel right now; And remember, you never want to feel like this again.”

This spring, Knighton improved his personal best from 200 to 19.49 and his 100 to 10.04. Terry believes he can drop his time from 200 to 19.39 this summer and, if he runs a perfect race, he can run 19.18 or faster, a world record, in 2024. For that, Knighton will have to refine his start and gain the strength to get on. standing. higher as he runs, lifting hips to full leg extension.

“It’s like a baby foal that is born and can barely walk,” Holloway said. “Then they get stronger and become Secretariat.”

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