The track seemed to tilt, as if banked, as Knighton hurtled out of the turn, and he appeared to be running downhill, landing as elite sprinters do just behind the balls of his feet, his heels seemingly never touching the ground. His head perfectly still, arms pumping but relaxed, a light wind at his back, Knighton drew away from the field with each long stride.
The advantage of being tall, with long legs, allowed Knighton to take fewer strides than shorter sprinters, which delayed his late-race fatigue and permitted him to maintain greater velocity toward the finish line. His coach marveled at the finesse and elasticity of Knighton’s stride. That is, how adroitly he absorbed the energy of landing with a peak force of about five times his body weight and sprang his body and feet back into the air quickly.
The basic measure of speed is stride length times stride frequency. Elite sprinters generally strike the track and lift off again in about nine hundredths of a second.
“It’s almost like he’s a pogo stick,” said Holloway, who is the head coach at the University of Florida and was also head coach of the United States’ track team at the Tokyo Olympics.
At the Tokyo Games, Knighton, at 17, was the youngest American track Olympian since the renowned miler Jim Ryun in 1964. According to NBC, he became the youngest male track athlete to reach the final of an individual Olympic race in 125 years. Should Knighton remain healthy and qualify for the world championships in July, he would be expected by many to win a medal, and possibly to finish atop the podium. When the 2024 Paris Olympics begin, he will be all of 20 years old.
People often ask whether he wants to be the next Usain Bolt. The comparison is an honor, Knighton said, but, no, he doesn’t want to be the next Bolt. He wants to be the best version of himself.