Usain Bolt’s retirement has left a gaping void in the world of sprinting. When Sebastian Coe, the IAAF president, was asked about the replacement for the Jamaican legend, pat came the reply: “Probably not, because you don’t replace Muhammad Ali”. It is true that no athletes ever captured the public imagination as Bolt did in his illustrious career. His record will also be the reference point for the next generation of athletes. In comes Erriyon Knighton, an 18-year-old sprinter from the USA, who is being dubbed by many as the “next Usain Bolt” after he broke Jamaican’s record in the 200m race twice, albeit at a junior level.
Last year, Knighton surpassed Bolt’s record at the U-18 level by completing the 200m sprint in 20.11 seconds. A month later, at the US Olympic trial, he bettered his own record and broke Bolt’s record at the U-20 level by finishing the race in 19.84 seconds.
However, it’s one thing to better Bolt’s record at the junior level, and another thing to become the fourth-fastest 200m sprinter at the tender age of 18. Last week at the Baton Rouge meet, Erriyon Knighton clocked 19.49 seconds and reiterating why he is the real deal. He is now behind only Usain Bolt (19.19sec), Yohan Blake (19.26), and Michael Johnson (19.32).
To put things into perspective, Bolt crossed 19.5 seconds barrier only after he turned 21.
While Erriyon Knighton still needs to cover more ground to better Bolt’s timing, the athletic world finally has someone they can pin their hopes on. At 6’3″, Knighton is just marginally shorter than Bolt, but their long legs give them the power to accelerate. While Bolt began his running journey as a child, Knighton was unsure about pursuing it professionally till three years ago.
Erriyon Knighton’s tall stature made him a great fit for American football as well and he even received scholarship offers from prominent universities. However, after setting a 200m record at the junior level, he has shifted his focus to track events.