IF YOU SAW THE VIDEO last summer, it made an impression on you. Erriyon Knighton, a prep soph, crushing the AAU Junior Olympic 200 field, his monstrously long stride propelling him to a 20.33, making him the world No. 2 ever among sprinters under 18.
A revelation, to say the least.
Now the young Knighton, still only 16 (he will turn 17 on January 29), has opted to go the pro route, signing with adidas. He won’t be competing for Hillsborough High in Tampa any more.
“I know I can maximize to the next level,” he says. “I’ve got to see what I can do. I want to win against the top athletes, but I know they’re not going to take it easy on me, so I’m going to have to train real hard.”
For now, the, 6-3/170 (1.91/77) wonder will continue working with his coach at My Brother’s Keeper TC, Jonathan Terry. His agents are former pro sprinters Ramon Clay and John Regis at Stellar Athletics.
Says Regis, himself the ’93 World Championship silver medalist in the 200, “He has a lot of potential. He’s hungry. He has what it takes.”
For his part, Knighton says of his agents, “They set me up for long-term success in the sport. They believe in my ability and I’m looking forward to making them proud.”
Knighton’s long stride has generated inevitable local newspaper comparisons to the Youth Recordholder, Usain Bolt, who ran 20.13 at age 16. Perhaps not so crazy, when one considers Knighton ran his 20.33 in a pandemic-shortened season, still only his second summer in the sport.
He started sprinting on the advice of his school’s football coaches, who saw his speed as an asset on the field. In his first season he clocked 10.66 and 21.39, placing 5th in the 200 final at the State Meet.
Last summer, having grown a couple inches taller, he showed up at the JOs in Satellite Beach — straight across the state from Tampa on the Atlantic Coast — after not having raced in 6 months. First came a 21.28 PR in the heats, followed by a 10.45 PR heat in the 100 the next day.
Though those times marked him as the favorite, no one expected what would follow. On Friday came his 20.33 runaway victory in the final, breaking the American Youth Record. Saturday, he closed out the weekend with an impressive 10.29 win in the straightaway dash.
Stat geeks noted that all of his times were into a headwind save for the 200 record, which had a faint 0.3 trailing breeze. And here’s the math in case you haven’t already done it: he took an astonishing 1.06 off his 200 best in one weekend.
What happened to make Knighton so fast? The growth spurt might have been part of it. Six months of uninterrupted training without competition might also have played a role. He explains it by saying, “I just tried really hard and I wanted it more than anyone else.”
Coach Terry says, “Everything is so exciting and a blessing.”
Knighton played well enough on the football field that the scholarship offers started rolling in. He says the decision to leave the gridiron behind was hard: “Knowing that I grew up around football my whole life, and receiving a lot of D1 offers, it was a tough decision, but it was also a no-brainer. In track, the success of my career is fully in my hands, and I know that I can do it.”
The timing has something to do with the Olympics being less than 200 days away. “When I decided, I had to jump right into training, because I was already behind.”
Yet Knighton is not taking anything for granted. “I feel like it will take more training because it’s the next level. It’s not high school anymore.
“It’s only my third season running track. I’ve been extremely successful in both training and competition. I believe if I work hard, I will eventually develop to be a world-class athlete. I’m soaking it all up, all the knowledge.”
He knows there are tradeoffs in bypassing the NCAA scene to become a pro so young. He knows that until he shows improvement, some critics will think he made a mistake. He responds, “It’s my decision. I feel like I’m not making a mistake. I feel like it’d be good for me.
“What motivates me every day is people who are better than me. I just want to be the best. Out of everybody out there working, I want to work two times harder.”
Does he think the ’21 Olympics are a possibility? “I believe if I train hard enough, I can make it.”