Erriyon Knighton, 17, Is the Youngest Olympic Track Competitor for the U.S.
On the Olympic track, Erriyon Knighton, 17, caused a sensation. He broke Usain Bolt’s under-18 record in the 200m in May and surpassed Bolt’s under-20 record in June, and he beat reigning world champion Noah Lyles, 24, in two races at the Olympic trials.
But at Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Florida, where we’re both progressing seniors, he’s just another student, just Erriyon. He walks the halls, tall, thin and childish. He dresses in Adidas clothes because the company is sponsoring him, but he usually doesn’t get much attention.
Erriyon’s friends say he’s funny and likes to mess around. They still laugh about the time he almost set the house on fire while trying to make a funnel cake out of pancake batter.
“He’s a calm, normal and ordinary high school student,” said his friend Nigel Richardson. “And he cares about people. He would never want to see anyone down.
Erriyon, who will run the 200 meters on Tuesday (Monday night in the US), is the United States’ youngest male track athlete at the Olympics since 1964. He started track running just three years ago, when Hillsborough’s football coach asked him to join the high school team.
Jordaan Bailey, a football teammate, has said he knows Erriyon has track potential.
“In his first take of the game he scored,” said Bailey. “I don’t think he was hit.”
In August 2020, Erriyon ran the 200 at the Junior Olympics in 20.33 seconds. His track career took off. He started giving media interviews and made what he said was a six-figure sponsorship deal with Adidas, part of which will help his mother, Shamika Knighton, pay the bills. He gave up his eligibility for athletics in high school and college to sign the deal, but eventually wants to go to college, with the idea of studying medicine.
In FaceTime conversations during the Olympic trials, Erriyon was confident in his performance, Bailey told me, even though he was running among the fastest men in the world. It made sense to Bailey.
“He’s always been calm,” Bailey said. “He never folds under pressure.
I got the same feeling when I interviewed Erriyon for our high school journal earlier this year as his performances kept improving and his Olympic hopes started to come true.
“I’m fair,” Erriyon told me. “Chilling, like I’m a normal person. “
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