As daunting as taking the line with Olympic medalists is for a professional sprinter, there might be a bigger challenge ahead for 18-year-old sensation Erriyon Knighton.
“Be yourself, don’t think about the pressure,” was the advice from Canada’s Andre De Grasse while speaking to reporters last week about the Florida high schooler being hailed as the next Usain Bolt.
De Grasse was often mentioned in the same breath as the eight-time Olympic champion and iconic sprinter before, during and after winning three medals at his 2016 Summer Games debut in Rio. He stepped out of the retired Bolt’s shadow last summer, winning Olympic 100-metre bronze and 200 gold in Tokyo.
“I wanted to be just me,” said De Grasse, whose 19.62-second performance in the 200 is a Games record. “I think now that I’ve won a gold medal it takes away that moment a little bit just to say, ‘he’s a champion as well’ not just the guy who ran against Usain Bolt.”
On April 30, Knighton ran 7:49 p.m. at the LSU Invitational in Baton Rouge, La., to set a new Under-20 world record and become the fourth-fastest overall over 200 in history behind Bolt (19:19), Yohan Blake (19:26) and Michael Johnson (19.32). This Saturday, Knighton will be aiming for his first-ever sub-10 clocking in the 100 against De Grasse and seven other men at the Diamond League’s Prefontaine Classic.
“He’s very young and talented,” said De Grasse, the defending Prefontaine champion, who relishes the chance to race Knighton for years to come.
WATCH | De Grasse defeats Kerley for 100m win at 2021 Prefontaine Classic:
Scheduled for 5:52 pm ET, the much-anticipated race in Eugene, Ore., will also feature 2020 Olympic silver medalist Fred Kerley, 2019 world champion Christian Coleman and Trayvon Bromell, the world’s fastest 100 runner last year. The event begins at 4 pm on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
Knighton ran a personal best of 04/10 on April 16 to beat 2019 Diamond League Trophy winner Noah Lyles (05/10) and capture the Olympic development race at the Tom Jones Memorial Classic in Gainesville, Fla.
“This kid is unbelievable,” Toronto sprinter Aaron Brown told CBC Sports recently. “I thought what he did last year was highly impressive.”
Last Aug. 4 in Japan, Brown finished 27-100ths of a second behind fourth-place Knighton (19.93) in the 200 final, the youngest man to race in an individual Olympic track final at 17.
“He probably has the potential to be the world record holder at some point,” said Brown, a three-time Olympian. Bolt holds that title after running 19.19 in August 2009 and clocked 19.93 when he was 18.
“Hey [Knighton] is on a trajectory no one has ever been on running at that age and it’s just a matter of how he matures and if he has the right people in his corner,” said Brown, who won his first-ever Diamond League 100 race last week at the Muller Birmingham event in England. “So far, he seems very grounded and focused on his craft.”
De Grasse, who arrives at the Prefontaine Classic after going 10.24 in Birmingham, used his time wisely on the circuit a year ago as a practicing ground for the Olympics, and probably will do the same for the world championships in July at Hayward Field in Eugene .
But the Markham, Ont., sprinter won’t get the chance Saturday to exact revenge on Marcell Jacobs, who stopped the clock in a European record 9.80 in Tokyo to become the first Italian to win Olympic gold in the 100. Italy’s athletics federation ( FIDAL) said Jacobs is nursing a muscle injury, reportedly suffered during his season-opening win (10.04) last week in Savona, Italy.
WATCH | Jacobs 1st Italian to win Olympic 100-metre gold medal:
Trayvon Bromell and Kerley of the United States are tied for fourth in the world this year with a best of 9.92. Kerley ran a 9.84 PB in the 2020 Olympic final while Bromell, who ran a world-leading 9.77 earlier in the season, didn’t make the final after barely qualifying for the semifinals and then going 10-flat. He was added to Saturday’s field on Tuesday, replacing Jacobs.
Americans Ronnie Baker and Marvin Bracy were part of the initial start list in Eugene but won’t race.
The rest of Saturday’s 100m field
Christian Coleman: The 26-year-old has been working his way back mostly behind the scenes of this outdoor season after returning to indoor competition in January following an 18-month suspension for breaching anti-doping whereabouts rules.
Coleman, who has a bye into worlds after taking the 100 three years ago in a 9.76 PB, went 10.09 in his lone 2022 race on at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix on May 8 in Tokyo.
Noah Lyles: The 200 specialist and 2019 world gold medalist will be running his fourth 100 of the season. Lyles has a season best of 10.05 from April in Gainesville, Fla., and his 9.86 personal best was set in May 2019 at Diamond League Shanghai in China.
WATCH | CBC Sports explains the 100-metre dash:
Kenny Bednarek: He has mostly competed in the 200 in recent years, winning Olympic silver behind De Grasse and the 2021 Diamond League Trophy. He ran 10.15 at his second 100 event of the season on May 7 at the Kip Keino Classic in Nairobi and has a best of 9.89 from last year’s US Olympic trials.
Letsil Tebogo: The other teen in Saturday’s race, 18-year-old Tebogo, earned a ticket to worlds this summer by taking 1-100th off Bromell’s U20 world mark of 9.97 from 2014 at home in a winning run on April 16 at a Continental Tour meet in Gaborone. He is the first man from Botswana to break 10 seconds in the distance.
Kyree King: The 27-year-old’s only two wind-legal times of his career under 10 seconds were achieved in each of the past two years, most recently on May 1 in Clermont, Fla., where the victorious King reached the finish line in 9.98. In April 2021, he beat Justin Gatlin (9.97-9.98) in a race that included Brown and Bracy.
Four other Canadians are competing at Prefontaine Classic – 2020 Olympic bronze medalist Moh Ahmed (men’s 5,000), Gabriela DeBues-Stafford (women’s, 1,500) and Charles Philibert-Thiboutot and Will Paulson in the men’s Bowerman mile.
On June 5, the Diamond League season shifts to Rabat, Morocco, beginning at 2 pm ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.