When Lebron James was dominating high school basketball every media outlet would make a reference to him being the second coming of Michael Jordan. However, an accomplished and lengthy career-still-in-progress later, all the statistics and championships in the world haven’t necessarily supplanted His Airness from the throne.
Meanwhile, as American track fans are sitting around wondering where all the rockstar runners went, is it possible we may have been gifted something even better — the next Usain Bolt?
This weekend at the LSU Invitational, Erriyon Knighton ran 19.49 (+1.4) for 200m to become the fourth-fastest all-time at the distance, while taking a significant amount of time off his previous best of 19.84. That time is so mind-blowing that it doesn’t require mentioning that he is only 18-years-old — though I still will. Very few people have run nearly as fast as Knighton, but nobody runs times anywhere in this vicinity during the month of April.
— Chris Chavez (@ChrisChavez) April 30, 2022
Knighton is certainly a 200m specialist. His fastest 100m, 9.99, came with an illegal tailwind, so he officially holds a personal best of 10.04 from earlier this season. Although second place finisher Joseph Fahnbulleh is not known for his start, watching Knighton powerfully glide off the bend and away from Fahnbulleh makes it quite apparent he also likes a running start. Reportedly Knighton’s second half was run in 9.23, which is a few ticks faster than when Bolt closed it down in 9.27 at the 2009 World Championships.
Last year, when Knighton followed up his surprise Olympic berth with a fourth-place finish in Tokyo, it felt like the world failed to notice just how special of a season the 17-year-old was having. Most of the attention was focused on Noah Lyles and so the prodigious nature of Knighton’s accomplishments took a back seat to one of the sport’s more charismatic stars. But remember, track and field is not like gymnastics or swimming — high schoolers aren’t supposed to win gold medals, especially if they’ve only been doing it for three years.
While Knighton has already caught and surpassed the timeline of Bolt’s career progression, he likely will not change the sport in the same way, even if he runs faster. Bolt’s legacy was born out of doing something that no one had ever done before and that extends beyond the times and transcends into culture — it certainly didn’t hurt that his last name is literally a verb that connotes speed, nor did his larger-than-life personality lose him too many fans.
But from a purely performance-based standpoint, his perfect track record of going 9-for-9* in the Olympics finals already cannot be matched by Knighton. Does that sound like it parallels another duo who is constantly being compared?
The world record of 19.19 might be under threat, but being Usain Bolt is not. That’s ok — had they raced when both were 18 years old, then Bolt would have been a half-second behind Knighton anyway.
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