Erriyon Knighton Runs 20.04 in First Round of US Olympic Trials to Break High School 200m Record
By Jonathan Gault
June 25, 2021
EUGENE, Ore. — Five years ago, high schoolers Noah Lyles and Michael Norman put on a show in the men’s 200 meters at the US Olympic Trials, finishing fourth and fifth and almost making the team to Rio as teenagers.
This year, 17-year-old Erriyon Knighton, who just completed his junior year at Hillsborough High School in Tampa, will look to do them one better. He’s off to a good start.
Running in the first heat of the preliminary round of the men’s 200 at the 2020 Olympic Trials at Hayward Field, Knighton came off the turn tied for the lead, then pulled away over the final 100 meters to win in 20.04, taking five-hundredths of a second off of the US high school record set by Lyles at the 2016 Trials. It also lowered Knighton’s own world U18 record of 20.11 — a record that belonged to Usain Bolt until Knighton broke it in May.
The names behind Knighton in his heat were impressive. The runner-up? None other than Lyles himself, the reigning world champion, who crossed in 20.19. Third place was Fred Kerley (20.41), who finished third in last week’s men’s 100m final in 9.86.
While Kerley had to come from behind in the home straight, Lyles looked comfortable, as the top three men all advanced to Saturday’s semifinals. But no one looked more comfortable than Knighton, who took a look to his right, then left, before easing across the finish line.
“I had the world champ behind me, so I couldn’t let off the gas too much,” Knighton said. “…[But] I saved something, most definitely.”
Knighton is a student of the sport, and he watched Lyles and Norman race in Eugene five years ago. He knows that he’s capable of the same sort of performance, something he proved today.
“I watched everything,” Knighton said. “If they can make it to the finals, I can too.”
And what about making the team? The men’s 200 is loaded in the US, with three of the five fastest men in the world this year competing at the Trials: Terrance Laird (19.81), Kenny Bednarek (19.88), and Lyles (19.90). But Knighton himself is now #7 in the world in 2021 and has to be taken seriously for a spot on the team.
Should he make it, Knighton would be the fourth-youngest man to make a US Olympic team in track & field. Knighton will be 17 years, 186 days old when the first round of the men’s 200 begins in Tokyo on August 3. Only Arthur Newton (17 years, 165 days when he ran the steeplechase in Paris in 1900) and Jim Ryun (17 years, 171 days when he ran the 1500 in Tokyo in 1964) were younger.
“I feel like it will take 19.8, 19.7 to make the team but as of right now, I’m just getting through the rounds, seeing how my body feels,” Knighton said. “And if the opportunity is there, I’m gonna take it.”
The other three heats were won by Isiah Young (20.21), Laird (20.44), and Andrew Hudson (20.40), with all the major players advancing to the semifinals. 34-year-old LaShawn Merritt, the 2008 Olympic 400 champion and an Olympic finalist at 200 meters in 2016, also advanced, finishing third in heat 4 in 20.53.
The other big name high schooler, Jaylen Slade, the 17-year-old who had run 10.09 and 20.20 earlier this year, only managed a 21.02 in heat 4 and was eliminated. It wasn’t a big surprise as he pulled up in the 100 heats and only ran 43.79.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Knighton would be the youngest US male track & field Olympian. In fact, he would be the third-youngest.