Youth runs wild: Collegians, teens dot track team for Tokyo

Sports

Erriyon Knighton finishes in third during the final in the men’s 200-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Sprinter Allyson Felix earned her spot in a fifth straight Olympics. Long jumper Brittney Reese made her fourth games. That sort of experience — any sort of experience — appears more of the exception than the rule on the track team the United States is sending to Tokyo next month.

The team is headlined by a 17-year-old sprinter who broke Usain Bolt’s youth records (Erriyon Knighton) and a long/high jumper from LSU (JuVaughn Harrison) accomplishing things not seen since the days of Jim Thorpe.

There’s a Harvard-educated sprinter who wants to be an epidemiologist one day (Gabby Thomas) and another speedster with orange hair (Sha’Carri Richardson).

New faces all waiting to make their mark.

Maybe the most confident voice among this youthful bunch belongs to 23-year-old Noah Lyles. He, too, is heading to his first Olympics after winning the final event of the 10-day trials — the men’s 200 meters. Lyles fully believes the team can top the 32 medals it won at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

“Shoot, I want all the sprints. Plain and simple,” Lyles said. “I don’t think I’m crazy for saying I think we can do it. Why not sweep them all? Why not go top three in each one? I don’t think it’s crazy.”

Far less crazy now that Bolt is retired and watching on TV.

“There’s no Jamaican dominance. There’s only U.S. dominance. We’re going to start breaking records,” Lyles said.

That, in fact, has already begun.

Shot putter Ryan Crouser, 28, broke a 31-year-old world record on the first day of trials.

On the last day, in record-setting heat that led the trials to be moved to the night, Sydney McLaughlin provided a perfect bookend, finishing the 400 hurdles in 51.90 seconds. The 21-year-old edged Dalilah Muhammad, who babysat the record for 23 months.

“It was definitely just a matter of time. Definitely knew she was capable of it,” Muhammad said. “I absolutely saw it coming.”

DAY & KNIGHTON

Not even Bolt was this fast at 17 years old. Knighton, who’s from Florida, broke an under-20 200 record that once belonged to the Jamaican sensation, finishing in 19.84 seconds. Bolt’s overall world record stands at 19.19.

“It will probably sink in when I get home,” Knighton said of his accomplishments. “It’s a really big achievement.”

Just as happy for him was Lyles, who finished a spot short at the 2016 trials when he was a teenager.

“To watch him PR in each round, I was just hoping, ‘Don’t gas out. Don’t gas out,’” Lyles said. “When he went out and he (got a personal record), I was so happy for him. I was like, ‘Bruh, you did it. You did what I couldn’t do.’ He did it. I’m just so happy for him.”

JUMP FOR JOY

Harrison went 2 for 2 on a steamy final day of trials, winning the long jump in the evening after taking the high jump in the heat. The LSU product became the first American to make it in both the high and long jumps at one Olympics since Thorpe in 1912, according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon.

This is what fueled him: A McGriddles breakfast sandwich from McDonald’s and later a sandwich from Firehouse Subs.

“I have a tradition for practice and tradition for competition,” Harrison explained. “For practice, I eat something hot and spicy. For competition, I usually eat a sandwich.”

It’s working.

“A great day,” he said. “But I am exhausted.”

HAIR APPARENT

Watch out, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. The Jamaican superstar will be pushed by Americans in both the 100 and 200 sprints in Tokyo.

Richardson won the 100 in 10.86 seconds and Thomas, the Harvard graduate, won the 200 in 21.61. Thomas not only broke the meet record held by her idol, Felix, but it also made her the second-fastest woman ever in the event, trailing only the two times posted by the late Florence Griffith Joyner.

The 21-year-old Richardson picks a hair color so “I’m visible and able to be seen,” she explained.

There may be a new color for Tokyo.

“I’ve got tricks up my sleeve,” Richardson said. “Stay tuned.”

ATHING OF BEAUTY

Athing Mu, whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from Sudan before she was born, has been tracking toward success for quite a while. The 19-year-old from New Jersey was the NCAA champ in the 400 for Texas A&M this season.

She bumped up to the 800 for trials, where she held off a veteran field to finish in 1 minute, 56.07 seconds. Her time broke the meet record set by Meredith Rainey in 1996.

“A 25-year-old record is really old,” Mu said. “I knew it was within me. It’s great to have it.”

COLLEGE TRY

A few other college standouts who made their way onto the podium at trials: Randolph Ross (400, North Carolina A&T), Isaiah Jewett (800, USC), Cole Hocker (1,500, Oregon), Darryl Sullivan (high jump, Tennessee), Anna Cockrell (400 hurdles, USC), Adelaide Aquilla (shot put, Ohio State), Jasmine Moore (triple jump, Georgia) and Anavia Battle (200, Ohio State).

For Ross, it was back to the books.

“I’m in summer school and I have another class coming up so it’s just — get my homework done, graduate early, and start my career from there,” explained Ross, who was third in the 400.

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