Track and field rivalry awaited – Orange County Register
EUGENE, Ore. — The first time Noah Lyles and Erriyon Knighton, the two fastest 200-meter runners this season, met after Lyle fueled the world’s five-barrel rivalry in track and field, was at a doping control at the American championships.
“When we were both trying to pee for a drug test,” Lyles said with a laugh.
Knighton wasn’t laughing at the time.
Minutes earlier, Lyles, at the end of his 19.67-19.69 second victory, gestured towards Knighton. Knighton grew heated when asked about the incident in post-race interviews.
So, with both men held captive by their bladders in the small doping control area, Lyles attempted to set the record straight, insisting the gesture was not directed at Knighton.
“To be honest, it was a simple conversation,” Lyles recalled. “He was like, ‘Wow, you don’t even have to worry about that. I get it.'”
Lyles, 25, the reigning world champion, and Knighton, 18 and the fastest man over 200 meters in more than a decade, remained on a collision course on Tuesday night for the most anticipated showdown in world championships, the 200 final at Hayward Field on Thursday night.
Global interest in the Lyles-Knighton clash is driven by both the rare gifts of the two young stars and the sport’s hunger for the legitimate, full-fledged rivalry that Usain Bolt’s decade of dominance has deprived it of. .
“It’s fun,” Lyles said. “I think anybody can say they go on social media and say athletics needs more rivalries, athletics needs more rivalries and then you get one and that’s oh , how cool, how fun, and not everyone handles it the same way but you know it comes like that and it makes us both better.
The rivalry could also be a game-changer for the American track as it hopes the World Championships will serve as a launch pad for a higher profile with viewers and corporate sponsors.
“I think at the top level, rivalries are good,” said Max Siegel, CEO of USA Track & Field, the sport’s national governing body. “So if you look at Erriyon and Noah Lyles and back and forth…I think we have a very young, charismatic and talented group of elite athletes that we want to connect with and galvanize and promote those athletes.”
A Worlds 200 that was already one of the most anticipated events of the season became even funnier after Lyles’ gesture – to some it looked like a point, to others it mimicked answering a call – to the end of the United States. Championship final.
“Come on Eugene, everyone watching this race is going to choose Noah or Erriyon for different reasons,” former 200 World Champion Ato Boldon, now an NBC analyst, said of Worlds. “I think there will be people who will say I didn’t like what Noah did to the kid at the US Nationals. So I’m going to cheer for Erriyon and I think there will be other people who will go you know what it is professional sport why should athletics be any different we see this all the time in other sports why should athletics be any different and they will continue to support Noah.
“Somehow Noah just made this race a lot more interesting.”
Lyles insisted the gesture was directed at his detractors, not Knighton.
“I was like, ‘I got your message. I got it,” Lyles said. “It was not a message for Erriyon. He’s a competitor. It was a message for all those who doubted me (and those who say): “Oh, we’re tired of you winning everything”. We are tired of seeing you win.
“It’s great. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop winning.
But Lyles also knew that by the time he met Knighton in a drug test at the U.S. Championships, the damage was already done.
“‘I know you gotta go back to training and you’re gonna start dropping bombs because I know if I got beat up today that’s exactly what I would do,'” Lyles recalled, saying at Knighton. “So that’s going to get me back to training and I’m about to start hitting him because I know he’s coming back with a vengeance and I’m not going to give him less than 100 (percent).”
“They’re both very young and I don’t think what Noah did was necessarily intentional,” Boldon said. “The point made at the end, I don’t think Noah would have liked this done to him in any capacity. Right? So that’s the first thing.
“And he has to take responsibility for that. What he said in the (post-race) interview was so flippant about a teenager who once made an Olympic final and ran faster than him. So I figured whether Noah Lyles knows it or not, he just poured accelerator on everything smoldering in there. Whether it’s just an ember or whether it’s about to be a big fire. I think it’s going to be a bigger fire than a lot of people realize. Because I think Erriyon Knighton is going to go back to Tampa and he’s going to say, “What happened in Eugene with Noah Lyles can never happen again.” I’m going to pass him if he’s in a lane ahead of me and he’s not going to catch me. And Noah is going to go back and say, “I can’t have to work that hard to catch a high school kid.” I can already see Noah controlling the damage, “Oh yeah, the goal was something else.” Whoa, this genie came out of the bottle and this high school kid is beyond irritated by what was said and what was done. So my stuff is good. Never mind.”
Knighton, clearly angered by the US Championships, recently tried to play down the incident and the rivalry.
“I don’t really think about what happened in Eugene (at the US Championships),” Knighton said after winning her opening round Monday night in 20.01, the second fastest time behind Lyles in 19.98. “The past is the past. I don’t want to dwell on it. We are now trying to get on the podium and hopefully get a sweep for the United States.
Knighton was asked about his relationship with Lyles.
“It’s really cold,” he said. “There’s no beef or anything. At the end of the day, it’s just a sport.
Lyles and Knighton train less than an hour apart in Florida. And both were introduced at a young age as the heir apparent to Jamaican Bolt, an eight-time Olympic and 11-time world champion, and world record holder in the 200m at 19.19.
Lyles won his first U.S. title aged 19 in 2017. A year later he was undefeated in the Diamond League aged 20, clocking 19.69 in four straight races. He ran 19.50, the fourth fastest time in history, in 2019 and later that season won the world title.
The Olympic favorite ahead of the Tokyo Games, Lyles emerged as the transcendent star the American track was looking for, appearing on the pages of GQ and Vogue and Time, the latter in which he guaranteed: “I’m going to win in Tokyo.
Instead, Lyles had to settle for bronze. Afterwards, he discharged his battle with depression, at one point sobbing.
“Mentally, going on and off antidepressants was really tough,” Lyle said.
Knighton finished fourth in the Olympic final, seven months after signing a contract with adidas as a 16-year-old high schooler, giving up his preparation and college eligibility.
In between, he twice lowered Bolt’s under-20,200 world record at the US Olympic Trials, the second improvement, 19.84, nearly a tenth below the best Jamaican teenager (19.93).
Comparisons to Bolt only increased after Knighton ran 19.49, eclipsing Lyles as the fourth fastest man in history.
“Everyone was saying Erriyon ran 19.4,” Lyles said. “I run a person, not a time.”