Justyn Knight Talks About Why He’s Joined The Bowerman Track Club

On August 6, 2021, Justyn Knight finished 7th in the Olympic 5,000-meter final in Tokyo. Though the Canadian Knight had faded over the final 600 meters of the race as the leaders pulled away, there were a number of reasons to be optimistic. Earlier that year, Knight had taken more than two seconds off his 1500-meter pb (lowering it from 3:36.07 to 3:33.41) and nearly 18 seconds off his 5,000 pb (13:09.76 to 12:51.93). Seventh was the highest Knight had ever finished in a global 5,000 final (he was 9th at the 2017 Worlds and 10th at the 2019 Worlds) and he had only just turned 25 years old. At the time, there was no way of knowing it would be Knight’s last race for more than two years.

When the 2023 World Athletics Championships begin on Saturday in Budapest, Knight will be absent, just as he was absent at last summer’s Worlds in Eugene. He has been sidelined since Tokyo with a nagging injury in his left Achilles tendon. After two years of frustration, Knight, feeling the ticking clock of the next Olympic Games, finally underwent surgery to repair the tendon in Toronto in June.

“Every day is a step closer to Paris,” Knight said. “I would have never guessed that I would miss two World Championships back to back.”

Knight has been cross-training ever since the surgery, and his doctor told him that he should be able to run again by September.

“The Achilles feels really good,” Knight said. “This is the most confident I’ve been since my hiatus. Right now I’m just doing a lot of pool walking on underwater treadmill, lots of calf raises, just building up the strength.”

Article continues below player.

Currently, there is no timetable for Knight’s return to racing, but we do know one thing: the next time Knight steps to the starting line, he will be wearing the kit of the Bowerman Track Club. Knight signed with Nike this summer and announced today on Instagram that he will relocate to Eugene to train under coach Jerry Schumacher this fall. LetsRun spoke to Knight last week about the move and agreed not to publish this piece until he had announced the move himself.

Prior to joining BTC, Knight had been coached by Chris Fox since 2014 — first at Syracuse University, and then as a member of the Reebok Boston Track Club from 2018 until the group dissolved at the end of 2022. The move to Schumacher, notorious for his intense, demanding workouts, represents a significant change from Fox, under whom Knight topped out at 75 miles per week. But Fox believes that if Knight can regain his fitness, he should be able to adapt to Schumacher’s training.

“With a little bit of luck, I think he’ll come back and be as good as ever,” Fox said. “He’s a very talented young man and he doesn’t have a ton of miles on him…Jerry’s a smart enough guy that he’ll ease Justyn into whatever they decide to do. Jerry’s pretty darn good so I would trust him as much as I would trust anybody.”

Knight said Bowerman’s consistency at major championships was the main reason he chose to join the team.

“Their team does a really good job of always making sure that people are at their best to perform at those major championships,” Knight said. “And at the end of the day, that’s what matters most to me.”

Embed from Getty Images

One of the poster boys of that success is Moh Ahmed, who earned World Championship bronze in 2019 and Olympic silver in 2021 in the 5,000. Knight said he is excited about the opportunity to train alongside Ahmed, the only Canadian who has run faster than him at 5,000 meters.

“Off the track, he’s a phenomenal person, we’re good friends,” Knight said. “On the track, I’ve looked up to Moh ever since I got into running. He’s been a great mentor to me. How often do you have the two best 5kers in Canadian history on the same team together? When you look at me and Moh, he’s very strength-based and I have a little bit of speed to me. I think that us working together, we can help each other sharpen our tools.”


A Frustrating Two Years

By the time he reached the 2021 Olympics, Knight’s Achilles had been bothering him for months, even as he put together the best season of his career. He tried to manage it as best he could but it hurt a lot after the semi in Tokyo and Knight said it affected his performance in the final.

“The final was really hard for me,” Knight said. “It wasn’t that I ran out of energy, it just felt like my foot wasn’t able to maintain.”

Knight got an MRI afterwards that revealed a partial tear in his left Achilles. He rested, performed exercises to strengthen the areas around the tendon, and tried to return in 2022 but the injury never fully healed.

Knight, who had never dealt with a serious injury before this one, has lost track of how many aborted comebacks he has endured over the last two years. He said that, on the whole, he has spent more weeks running than resting during that period and there been times where he has been able to string together a few consecutive months of training. But what running Knight has done has typically been at a lower volume — perhaps 35-40 miles per week — and lower intensity than what is required of a world-class athlete. Whenever Knight attempted to reach that level, his Achilles would inevitably flare up again.

Embed from Getty Images

“There were some moments where I was starting to feel better where I’ve taken breaks from running and then I felt like I stabilized my foot or strengthened it enough and running was going well,” Knight said. “And then as soon as I started to hit a certain speed or pace, I found myself in the same pain that I was having before.”

While this was going on, the Reebok Boston Track Club — the Charlottesville, Va.-based professional team launched around Knight in 2018 — was falling apart. In August 2021, Reebok’s parent company, adidas, sold Reebok to Authentic Brands Group, for $2.5 billion. Many of RBTC’s athletes, such as marathoners Colin Bennie and Martin Hehir and 1500/5000 runner Josette Andrews had contracts that expired at the end of 2021 or 2022 and were not renewed. The group disbanded in January 2023.

Knight declined to discuss the details of how and when his Reebok contract ended, but he is a Nike athlete now, having negotiated his deal himself this year (Knight also parted ways with his agent, Ray Flynn). Knight referred any questions about Reebok to Fox. Fox, when reached for this story, politely declined to discuss Reebok and the dissolution of the RBTC.

Knight split time between Charlottesville and his hometown of Toronto in 2022 and moved back to Toronto full-time last winter. He said he has felt well-supported by Athletics Canada during his rehab and believes he has made gains in at least one area: weightlifting, something he never did much under Fox.

At Syracuse, and even in his years as a pro, Fox treated Knight very conservatively when it came to training. Fox believes Knight was on track for big things before his injury derailment. The question is whether those goals are still realistic after missing the better part of two years.

“I think the 12:51 was just scratching the surface,” Fox said. “If you watch these races, even the Olympics, he was right there until very late. And I think that’s a matter of Justyn being stronger and age, two more years older. He has just not done the outsize training yet and if he can get to the point where he can do that, I think there’s another level there.”

Embed from Getty Images

Knight will need to reach that new level if he is to be competitive in the men’s 5,000 moving forward as the event has reached unprecedented heights in 2023. Two years ago, when Knight ran 12:51, only two men broke 12:50 all year. In 2023, eight men have already done it — including six at 12:42 or faster. And that does not include reigning world champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen.

Knight said he’s been motivated by the explosion of fast times, and while he’s frustrated not to have been able to run in races like Florence and Oslo this year, he has realized one benefit. Knight says watching on TV or online from afar has given him a better sense of the complete picture of a race; he feels he has been able to analyze his opponents in a way he did not while he was competing.

“I’ve developed an appreciation for a lot of different runners and their tactics and I think I’m going to be a smarter runner just off of watching them,” Knight said.

Soon, a new chapter will begin in Eugene. And despite how the last two years have gone, Knight is feeling optimistic about his move to Bowerman and his future in the sport. He is already excited for his first altitude camp — Knight has never trained at elevation before — and to joining a training group that includes the likes of Ahmed, Cooper TeareSean McGorty, and American record holder Grant Fisher. Knight knows that, given the amount of time he missed, he has a lot of hard work ahead of him if he is to return to become of the world’s best distance runners again.

But that is nothing new. Whenever Knight looks back at photos or videos from the 2021 Olympics, he feels pride in making it to Tokyo and attaining a goal he had set for himself years earlier. But he’s also reminded of the effort it took to make that goal a reality.

“When I look at those photos, it’s not like I was just born with that talent and I just showed up,” Knight said. “I had to work really, really, really hard to get to that point. And it’s the same journey [now]. I know that I’m capable. I’ve been there before. As long as I work just as hard, if not harder than I did before, I know I can get back to where I need to be.”

Talk about Knight’s move to the Bowerman Track Club on our world-famous fan forum / messageboard. MB: JUSTYN KNIGHT BOWERMAN

Want More? Join The Supporters Club Today
Support independent journalism and get:
  • Exclusive Access to VIP Supporters Club Content
  • Bonus Podcasts Every Friday
  • Free LetsRun.com Shirt (Annual Subscribers)
  • Exclusive Discounts
  • Enhanced Message Boards