Noah Lyles vs Erriyon Knighton: The story so far

The two Americans have dominated the headlines in the 200m this year as both closed in on the 2009 world record of Usain Bolt. Olympics.com looks at the budding rivalry between the stars of US sprinting before they meet in the Diamond League in Monaco on 10 August. 

By Sean McAlister
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

As the saying goes, it takes two to tango. And this year has seen the beginning of an unforgettable dance-off, as the USA’s Erriyon Knighton and Noah Lyles have gone head-to-head in the 200m.

Going into the season, the spotlight had been turned away from the US pair, after Tokyo 2020 saw Canada’s Andre De Grasse win gold with 2019 world champion Lyles settling for bronze and Knighton for fourth.

And when the 2022 outdoor season began, it was the young Knighton who stole the headlines as he became the then fourth-fastest man in 200m history when he set a mark of 19.49 at the LSU Invitational in April at only 18 years of age.

The fourth fastest man before that day? Noah Lyles.

With expectation rising that Knighton could even one day break Usain Bolt’s world record of 19.19 set all the way back in 2009, Lyles had to face up to the challenge of no longer being the most talked about half-lap runner in his country, let alone the world.

But at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon, all that changed when, in a thrilling 200m final, Lyles displaced not only Knighton but also US legend Michael Johnson in the history books when he won gold in 19.31 to become the fastest-ever American over the distance.

He now sits behind only Jamaica's Bolt and Yohan Blake on the all-time list of fastest 200m runners.

In the same race, Knighton finished third to take his first major medal, after finishing just off the podium as a 17-year-old at Tokyo 2020.

Now with the two set to go up against each other once again at the 10 August Diamond League meet in Monaco, Olympics.com looks at the prospects of two athletes vying for the title of world's fastest 200m runner.

READ MORE: Can Knighton beat Bolt's world record?

Noah Lyles: a champion on the rise

The 200m world record is in the most vulnerable position it has been for over a decade. And ominously for that mark of 19.19 Lyles has stated that he won’t be racing at his best until later this year.

In an exclusive interview with Olympics.com prior to the World Athletics Championships, the now two-time world champion had this to say:

“I truly don't believe that I'm going to run my fastest this year at world championships. I believe I'm going to run very fast, but I don't think I'm going to run my fastest.

“I think it's going to happen later in the year, and just keeping that mindset going has definitely been keeping me hungry, keeping me active."

Lyles has seven major championship gold medals to his name, including the last two world 200m titles, a Youth Olympic Games gold from Nanjing 2014 and a world 4x100m gold from Doha 2019.

So far, Olympic titles have eluded him after he was forced to settle for bronze in Tokyo after he finished behind De Grasse and compatriot Kenny Bednarek in the 200m final.

Prior to Oregon, his fastest time was set in 2019, when he won the Diamond League race in Lausanne in 19.50. But his time at this year’s Worlds took him to another level altogether and moved him to within 0.12 seconds of Bolt’s outright world record.

“I knew that was coming,” Lyles told reporters after the race. “I’ve just been waiting for it for a few months now. Finally got my start down to where I wanted it to. I knew after the semis that today was gonna be the day.”

But perhaps even more telling was when he spoke about the influence Knighton had had on his success this season.

“I’m driving and I hear Erriyon just runs 19.4,” he recalled of the day Knighton set his own personal best in April. “I stopped my dinner plans, turned back around: ‘we gotta get ready to run tomorrow!”

READ MORE: Noah Lyles: "I believe this is going to be my best year"

Erriyon Knighton: a prodigy with the world at his feet

Knighton’s journey has been short but to say it has burned brightly would be to sell him short.

Still now in his teenage years, the former high school football player hadn’t even heard about athletics just four years ago.

“You could have asked me what 100m was and I wouldn't have known. I knew nothing about track,” the young sprint sensation told the BBC in early 2022.

However, in the space of just over a year, he has gone from becoming the youngest male American to be named to a US Olympic team in 57 years to a world bronze medallist.

But that’s not the only reason people are so excited about this prodigy.

Olympic legend Bolt was 21 by the time he set a time faster than Knighton’s current Under 20 world record of 19.49, when he posted a mark of 19.30 at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

And Knighton, who will be 20 by the time of Paris 2024, has been improving at such a rapid pace that he has taken a full 0.35 seconds off of his fastest time between the ages of 17 and 18.

If he makes another step like that over the next year he would be comfortably within world record range.

And while he did come off third best at this year’s Worlds he has gained invaluable championship experience which should help to calm the jitters that can hamper your performance on such big occasions.

He also admitted to having more practical issues during the final in Oregon.

“I hit the right block with the side of my foot… it affected my acceleration phase, I can say that," he explained. "You know I usually get out better than that and me hitting the side of the block just kind of messed my whole pattern up.”

Later, he spoke about whether it felt different winning a medal in Oregon compared to coming fourth in Tokyo.

“You still gotta stay hungry and want more,” he said.

The rivalry between Lyles and Knighton is one that has the potential to last for years to come. It is also one that is bringing the best out of the young sprinters as they push each other to new heights.

And for track fans eager to see them both in action they won’t have to wait long: Both race in the 200m at 10 August’s Diamond League in Monaco.

READ MORE: Top things to know about Erriyon Knighton

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