BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — From cars to race times, 19-year-old sprinter Erriyon Knighton has an appreciation for all things fast.
He’s combining his two passions to provide extra fuel: Should Knighton achieve Olympic glory, he’s treating himself to a black McLaren supercar. One thing he can’t speed away from are the inevitable comparisons to retired Jamaican sensation Usain Bolt, which Knighton only welcomes as he gears up for the world championships.
Because really, slow and steady is more Knighton’s speed in his evolution as a sprinter. He feels patience will get him to the summit as he chases American teammate Noah Lyles, the two-time defending world 200-meter champion and recently crowned 100-meter title-winner.
“We’re not in a rush to be great,” Knighton said in an interview with The Associated Press in the lead-up to the first round of the 200 on Wednesday. “I mean, greatness doesn’t come overnight. Knowing this, we’re just taking everything step-by-step.”
His step-by-step blueprint has led to faster 200-meter times than even Bolt was running at this age. Knighton, a former football player turned full-time sprinter from Florida, has the top 11 fastest times ever in the 200 by a sprinter under-20, including 19.49 seconds in April 2022. For comparison, Bolt’s top time at roughly a similar age was 19.93. Bolt only got faster through the years, lowering the world record to its current mark of 19.19 at the 2009 worlds in Berlin.
It’s a time that Knighton — along with Lyles and everyone else — has eyes on.
“It’s only a matter of time” before the record falls, said Knighton, who’s never met Bolt. “And if I don’t do it, somebody’s going to do it.”
Especially with Lyles pushing him. They have one of track’s burgeoning rivalries, which features a contrast in styles. Lyles is flashy, while Knighton is more reserved.
“I like (the rivalry) because I know every time we step on the track,” Knighton said, “we’re going to bring the best out of each other.”
Lyles led an American podium sweep in the men’s 200 at last year’s worlds in Oregon, with Kenny Bednarek taking silver and Knighton bringing home bronze. It was such a blazing-fast race that Lyles broke Michael Johnson’s longstanding American record with a time of 19.31 seconds.
Let the record reflect: Lyles respects Knighton. But he doesn’t fear the youngster who turns 20 in January.
“I see him as a kid. But he’s also a rival,” said the 26-year-old Lyles, who has finished in front of Knighton in seven of their nine races in the 200. “As soon as you enter the track world and as soon as you say that you want to be a professional, you’re a professional. I’m going to treat you as a professional.”
This summer, Knighton has worked his way into what he’s described as the best racing shape of his young sprinting life. He’s sharpening his skills under the direction of Mike Holloway, the successful coach at the University of Florida whose son, Grant Holloway, won his third straight world title in the 110-meter hurdles Monday.
One thing Knighton’s learned above all else — don’t look left or right when racing. Just concentrate on his own lane.
“Finding out more (about executing) my best race plan, instead of trying to do something that I’m not used to,” explained Knighton, who last December won a second “Rising Star” award presented by World Athletics. “Just find out what’s best for me.”
There was a time when playing football in college might be his path. A talented receiver, he had interest from schools like Florida and Florida State, according to 247Sports. But he decided to concentrate on track and turned pro at 16, signing a deal with Adidas (the same company as Lyles).
“I like where I’m at in track, but I do miss playing football because it’s more of a team-oriented thing,” Knighton said. “I just like being inside the locker room before a football game, being in there with my brothers and knowing that we’ve got to go to work.”
His drive away from the track centers on cars. He has a Grand Cherokee that’s among his prized possessions. He hopes to one day purchase a McLaren or a Lamborghini, which he’s promised himself should he win not one but two Olympic gold medals.
It’s a powerful incentive as he builds toward next year’s Paris Games.