TOKYO — Erriyon Knighton may be one of the youngest people in decades to represent the U.S. in men’s track at the Olympics but he sailed through to the final of the 200-meter to compete with the fastest men in the world.
“I don’t really try to put my age in it, I just go out there and run like I’m an adult just like they is,” he said earlier this week.
The 17-year-old from Tampa, Fla., has made a dramatic rise in track, including knocking down an under-18 world record set by Jamaican track legend Usain Bolt in 2003.
He ultimately placed fourth in the blazing fast final on Wednesday, making a major statement at his first Olympics.
Earlier this week, Knighton won his first heat and said that he eased up after the first half of that sprint. “I’ve got to qualify for the heat so don’t exert too much energy, really,” he said, appearing relaxed and confident.
Then, he breezed through the semifinal, winning yet again. After that race, he gestured to “Knighton” on his bib, as if to say, “Remember this name.”
“Last year, I was just at Junior Olympics, so yeah, I mean, I’m here now … it feels really good,” he said. It was at the Junior Olympics last August that he first broke a national record, on his way to smashing Bolt’s world record for the age group.
Knighton added that compared with the Junior Olympics, he’s finally getting some competition: “Well, the huge difference is you’ve got to run. Like really fast. When I used to run at Juniors, or youth, you don’t have to run that fast. You can jog on kids.”
“You’re running against grown men, so you’ve got to do everything you can to beat them,” he said.
Knighton, who aspires to go to medical school, started running his freshman year when his football coach said it could help make him faster as a wide receiver. He was recruited to multiple colleges for football but decided to go pro in track before his 17th birthday and signed with Adidas.
And while that contract has made his life more comfortable, his high school newspaper reported that his life is still pretty normal: “Switching back and forth from his parent’s houses, visiting grandparents and cousins on the weekends, going bowling with his mom, and dreaming, not too unrealistically, of buying a Dodge Charger as his first car.”
In the 200-meter final on Wednesday, Canadian star Andre de Grasse took gold, and U.S. sprinters Kenny Bednarek and Noah Lyles won silver and bronze.
But Knighton was right behind them.