EUGENE, Ore. — World, meet Erriyon Knighton.
The 17-year-old Florida native announced himself as one of the rising stars in U.S. track and field Sunday, finishing third in the men's 200-meter final at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.
A would-be rising senior in high school, Knighton figures to be one of the youngest athletes on Team USA this summer, where he will not only compete but also have a legitimate shot at winning a medal.
He is believed to be the youngest American man to make the Olympic track and field team since Jim Ryun in 1964.
Here are five things to know about the 17-year-old sprinting star.
A late start
Knighton didn't participate in track and field until his freshman year at Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Florida. His first major competition was the 2019 Florida state high school, where he placed fifth in the 200-meter dash.
Knighton said Sunday that he only started running track at the suggestion of his high-school football coaches. Additional training and a growth spurt helped lower his times on the track.
After parts of his sophomore and junior seasons were disrupted by the pandemic, Knighton decided at the beginning of this year that he was ready to turn pro. He signed a contract with adidas and hired well-regarded agents Ramon Clay and John Regis as his representatives. He was just shy of his 17th birthday at the time.
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"It’s only my third season running track," Knighton told Track & Field News earlier this year. "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."
Erriyon Knighton wins a semi-final in the men's 200-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis) (Photo: The Associated Press)
A four-star football recruit
Knighton's decision did not come easily. In addition to his potential on the track, he was also a highly sought-after recruit as a wide receiver.
Last fall, Knighton told Florida Today, which is part of the USA TODAY Network, that he had received offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Tennessee and Florida, among others. Major recruiting services, including 247 Sports, rated him as a four-star prospect thanks to his combination of height and speed.
"Knowing that I grew up around football my whole life, and receiving a lot of DI offers, it was a tough decision, but it was also a no-brainer," Knighton told Track & Field Newsearlier this year. "In track, the success of my career is fully in my hands, and I know that I can do it."
Knighton was asked over the weekend if, given forthcoming changes to NCAA rules regarding athlete compensation, he would consider pursuing college football on top of his pro track career. He dismissed the question, saying it was "not an option."
Breaking Bolt's records
When asked in August if he would compare his running style to someone else's, Knighton pointed to the world record-holder.
"Probably Usain Bolt," he told Florida Today, "just because he's tall like me."
It's proved to be a bold but apt comparison, given that Knighton has now broken two of Bolt's youth records at 200 meters.
At a meet in Florida earlier this month, Knighton ran the 200 in 20.11 seconds to beat the previous under-18 record set by Bolt in 2003. Then, less than a month later, Knighton ran a 19.88 in his semifinal heat at the Olympic trials – which bested the under-20 world record that Bolt notched in 2004.
Eschewing the spotlight
While some youngsters might seek out the spotlight, Knighton has largely avoided it so far in his professional career. His team has politely declined requests to interview Knighton before the Olympic trials, and the 17-year-old was all business while in Eugene.
After winning both his preliminary and semifinal heats – and beating reigning world champion Noah Lyles on both occasions – Knighton left the track without being interviewed by NBC, as is custom for the winner of a race. The move prompted some teasing from Lyles, who also competed at the Olympic trials as a teenager in 2016.
"It was a missed opportunity but he’ll have plenty of others," Lyles said Saturday, after Knighton left the track before his likely TV interview.
Olympic dream fulfilled
Knighton didn't think he ran his best race of the weekend in Sunday's final. But it was good enough to register a time of 19.84 seconds, a new personal best.
The 17-year-old just narrowly beat out Fred Kerley, who already qualified for the Olympics at 100 meters, and Isiah Young, a 31-year-old veteran who ran at the 2012 London Games.
Knighton said that, at the end of the day, he's on the team so he doesn't have too much to complain about.
"It hasn't sunk in," he said. "It’ll probably sink in when I get home. … I feel it's a real big accomplishment."
Contributing: Florida Today
Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
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