Holy Crap, 17-Year-Olds Erriyon Knighton (9.99*) and Jaylen Slade (10.03*/20.20) Just Ran Insanely Fast
By Jonathan Gault
May 3, 2021
The track at the National Training Center in Clermont, nestled among the lakes of central Florida, is rather like a volcano. Which is perhaps appropriate given the town’s namesake of Clermont-Ferrand in France, actually is situated among the Chaîne des Puys volcano range. Surrounded by hills, the 400-meter oval is situated on a sunken “crater” and has a tendency to belch out fiery sprint performances; given the critical mass of elite sprint groups based on Florida, the Clermont track is liable to erupt at any time.
The latest explosion came on Sunday evening, as within the span of three hours, 17-year-old high school junior Jaylen Slade of IMG Academy ran 10.03 (+2.7 wind) and 10.04 (+2.1 wind) in the 100 meters and a wind-legal 20.20 for 200 meters. Slade wasn’t the only teen to impress as fellow 17-year-old high school junior Erriyon Knighton — who turned professional earlier this year, signing with adidas — ran 9.99 (+2.7) in the 100 prelims and 10.07 (+2.1) in the final 85 minutes later.
In a meet that also featured a commanding 10.78 100m victory by reigning Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah, high schoolers Slade and Knighton were the ones making headlines, running times never before seen for American sprinters of their age.
In the 100, Knighton became just the third high schooler to break 10.00 in the 100 under any conditions, joining Trayvon Bromell in 2013 and Matthew Boling in 2019. Both Bromell, who ran 9.99 with a 4.0 m/s tailwind, and Boling, who ran 9.98 with a 4.2 m/s tailwind, benefited from substantially higher wind readings than Knighton (+2.7).
In the final, where the wind was barely over the 2.0 m/s limit, Slade ran 10.04 to finish 4th and Knighton 10.07 to take 5th (Trinidad & Tobago’s Cejhae Greene ran 10.02 to win the race over 2012 Olympic silver medalist Yohan Blake of Jamaica). That extra 0.1 of wind cost the pair a chance to crack the all-time wind-legal high school top 10, listed below:
All-time US high school 100m list (wind-legal, courtesy T&F News)
1. 10.00 Trentavis Friday, 2014
2. 10.01 Jeff Demps, 2008
3. 10.09 Anthony Schwartz, 2018
4. 10.11 Matthew Boling, 2019
5. 10.13 Derrick Florence, 1986
6. 10.14 Noah Lyles, 2015
7. 10.15 Henry Neal, 1990
8. 10.16 Houston McTear, 1976
9. 10.18 Roy Martin, 1985
9. 10.18 Ryan Clark, 2015
In the 200 — his third race of the day, 80 minutes after the 100 final — Slade’s time of 20.20 was wind-legal, and it was historic. Only Usain Bolt, who ran 20.13 at age 16 in 2003, has ever run faster at a younger age. Slade’s time was also a junior class record and put him #5 on the all-time US list (Knighton did not run the 200).
All-time US high school 200m list (wind-legal)
1. 20.09 Noah Lyles, 2016
2. 20.13 Roy Martin, 1985
3. 20.14 Tyreek Hill, 2012
3. 20.14 Michael Norman, 2016
5. 20.20 Jaylen Slade, 2021
6. 20.22 Dwayne Evans, 1976
7. 20.24 Joe DeLoach, 1985
8. 20.29 Clinton Davis, 1983
9. 20.31 Matthew Boling, 2019
9. 20.31, Erriyon Knighton, 2021
So Young, So Fast
There have long been questions about the notoriously fast Clermont track, in part due to the wind, but it’s not as if Slade and Knighton came from nowhere. Slade ran 20.62 indoors in February to break Lyles’ national high school record. And Knighton ran 20.33 last summer as a 16-year-old. They are monster talents just starting to emerge.
The craziest thing about Knighton and Slade is their age, especially when compared to recent high school phenoms. Noah Lyles was old for his grade — he was nine days away from his 19th birthday when he ran his high school record of 20.09. Matthew Boling was old for his grade as well — he turned 19 in June 2019, shortly after graduating high school (and before he ran his wind-legal high school pb of 10.11). Knighton and Slade, meanwhile, are both high school juniors and their birthdays are in line with a typical junior — Slade turned 17 in October, while Knighton turned 17 in January.
The youngest man to break 10.00 for 100 meters (wind-legal) is Trayvon Bromell, who ran 9.97 to win the NCAA title as a freshman at Baylor in 2014. Bromell was 18 years, 338 days old at the time. Which means that if Knighton or Slade can break 10.00 at any point this summer or next summer, they would surpass Bromell as the youngest to do it.
So far, however, Slade and Knighton have found more success over 200 meters, and it is not hard to imagine the duo shaking up this summer’s Olympic Trials in much the same way Lyles and Michael Norman did in 2016, when each man won his semifinal and they wound up going 4-5 in the final, just missing out on a spot on the team to Rio. With this year’s Olympic Trials less than seven weeks away and the US hosting its first outdoor World Championships in Eugene next year, Slade and Knighton have a massive platform upon which to build their stardom.
Between Lyles, Bromell, Justin Gatlin, and Ronnie Baker, it won’t be easy for Slade or Knighton to crack the US’s 100m squad this year (even a spot in the relay pool would be tough). The competition in the 200 is fierce as well: reigning world champ Lyles should have one spot locked up, and both Kenny Bednarek (19.80 pb) and LSU’s Terrance Laird (19.81 pb) have been in good form in 2021. But with top pros to push them, there’s no telling how fast Slade or Knighton could go; both ran their pbs in races where they finished well clear of the field.
So remember the names Jaylen Slade and Erriyon Knighton. They could be arriving sooner than you think.
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