Abrahamson: At 17, fourth place for Erriyon Knighton is no place for joy

TOKYO, JAPAN - AUGUST 03: Erriyon Knighton of Team United States finishes first ahead of Femi Ogunode of Team Qatar and Anaso Jobodwana of Team South Africa in the Men's 200m Semi-Final on day eleven of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 03, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

TOKYO — No question, 17-year-old Erriyon Knighton is one of the bright young talents in all of Planet Earth in sprinting. He finished fourth Wednesday in the men’s 200 final.

Fourth. 

You would have thought, looking at and talking with Knighton, who spoke barely above a whisper and could barely find words, would hardly look up from the ground, that his puppy had died. 

“As of right now,” he said moments after finishing out of the medals behind grown men, seasoned professionals, “it’s just a race. 

“I just have to come back better. That’s it.”

Canada’s Andre de Grasse fulfilled his destiny by winning this race, in a national record 19.62 seconds. The other two Americans in the race, Kenny Bednarek and Noah Lyles, went 2-3, Bednarek winning silver in a personal-best 19.68, Lyles a season-best 19.74.

Knighton crossed in 19.93.

 

SEE MORE: Canada's De Grasse claims 200m gold for fifth Olympic medal

De Grasse, 26, took silver in the Rio 2016 200 behind Usain Bolt. This after chatting it up with Bolt in the Rio 200 semifinals — a picture that has gone on to become one of the iconic moments in Olympic sprint history. In Rio, de Grasse also won bronze in the 100 and another bronze with the Canadian 4x1 relay team. Here in Tokyo, he repeated his bronze in the 100 — beaten to gold by a virtually unknown Italian, Lamont Marcell Jacobs Jr.

Andre de Grasse and Usain Bolt react as they compete in the Men's 200m Semifinals on Day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 17: Andre de Grasse of Canada and Usain Bolt of Jamaica react as they compete in the Men's 200m Semifinals on Day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Ian MacNi/Getty Images)

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“I’ve been waiting for this moment and, yeah, I’m speechless,” de Grasse, who spent a year at USC, said.

Bednarek, 22, has been training since 2019 with former Olympic and world sprint champion Justin Gatlin. He ran at the Doha 2019 world championships but was dogged by injury. “Obviously I wanted that gold medal. I got a personal best out of this race,” he said at a late-night news conference.

Lyles, 24, is the Doha 2019 200 champ. He has been a professional track athlete since 2016. He said at that same news conference, “I was telling Kenny when we were walking around the track,” meaning their victory lap, “that it’s lonely at the top.” He said he woke up “the other day with a swollen knee” and thought, “Shoot, I might not be able to run.” 

He also said, “I have no regrets.”

Knighton broke Usain Bolt’s under-18 200 record at a meet earlier this year in Florida. In the semis, he cruised through to the final with ease, beating the likes of Nigeria’s Divine Oduduru — a four-time NCAA champion at Texas Tech — and Jamaica’s Rasheed Dwyer.

At 17, Knighton became the youngest male Olympian to make a 200 final since 1984.

Then came a hard dose of 1-2-3 reality. And fourth place.

Lyles sought out the teen moments after the race finish, to reassure him: “I just told him you did good. He did great. He did his best. At the end of the day that’s all you can do. There should be no regrets. 

“… He should have no reason to feel bad for himself.” 

Bednarek, observing that Knighton is still “very raw” but nonetheless pulling a 19.93 in an Olympic final — “that’s scary to think about” — offered this advice: “Keep [your] head up.”

The winner, de Grasse, said much the same:

“He should be proud of himself. I know he wanted to medal. He’s 17 years old. He’s a first-year professional. To be out here with the big dogs, having a chance to win an Olympic medal — he has a lot more in the tank.

“I mean, hey, you’re 17 years old, you have a lot more in you.”

Erriyon Knighton could only manage these words upon finishing fourth in the Olympic Games, “Right now, it’s a place I never thought I’d be. I have to go back to work.

“Just got to be better.”