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Lyles v Knighton: Usain Bolt’s heir challenges world champion

The rivalry between Erriyon Knighton and Noah Lyles in the 200m promises to be one of the highlights in Oregon.

Eugene (Oregón)
Lyles v Knighton: Usain Bolt’s heir challenges world champion
Logan Hannigan-DownsLogan Hannigan-Downs/Corvallis K

The image of 24-year-old Noah Lyles smiling and pointing at Erriyon Knighton (18) after winning the final of the 2022 Trials (19.67 to 19.69) caused a bit of a controversy in the US. Many saw a veiled threat towards the young talent, and the 200m world champion in Doha 2019 (also gold in the 4x100m) had to go out and explain.

Knighton and Lyle: a sprinting duel

“I’m pointing out all those people who continue to doubt me,” Lyles said wanting to settle what happened. But Knighton wasn’t satisfied and in the interview after the race he left with a single sentence: “I will only come back here in the World Championship and win. The work is not finished, it is never finished.”

Lyles’s reaction, very much like one scripted for a Hollywood movie, showed that this is a duel of the time. “It’s not over!” he yelled at him as Knighton walked away.

At the World Championships in Oregon both will face each other again and Lyles wanted to give his version again at a press conference... and put his finger on the sore spot of the rivalry between the mentor and the apprentice:

“I know that He will want revenge and I am prepared to give my best. Rivalries make sport better. It is said that it is a pity that there are not and when there is one there are also complaints. They make the sport better. It’s just about having fun, to be honest.”

Lyles arrives with 19.61 as the best time in 2022 (he has 19.50 as the absolute top) against the 19.49 of the heir to Usain Bolt, that phenomenon who at 18 years old already runs 44 hundredths faster than the Jamaican at his age and who has taken all the junior world records.

Knighton turned pro straight out of Hillsborough High School after signing with Adidas and became the youngest US athlete to compete in the Olympics since Jim Ryun in 1964. In Tokyo he finished fourth precisely behind Lyles, but he doesn’t seem to want to knock on the door, rather take it ahead. Something that bronze in Japan is not willing to allow, at least for now.

“I am in my country and I have my family here,” explained the man from Gainesville in Florida, a stage showman who acknowledged taking anti-depressants and regularly seeing a therapist for mental health problems, and who raised his voice after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.

“All you see is your own people getting hurt and killed every day. And an idea begins to wander in your mind: am I going to be the next?” he said in an interview with AP.

The qualifying rounds take place on Monday and Tuesday and the expected final will be on Thursday evening, likely putting Lyles and Knighton side by side. They have the fourth and fifth best times in the history of the 200m - only surpassed by Bolt’s 19.19, Yohan Blake’s 19.26, also Jamaican, and Michael Johnson’s 19.32.

Of course, they will not be alone in the race, with two outsiders in particular looking to spoil the party for both: Kenneth Bednarek (silver in Tokyo) and Fred Kerley, the newly crowned fastest man in the world after winning the 100m in Oregon. And let’s not forget the Olympic champion, the Canadian De Grasse.

What a race awaits us...