I found Deji Ogeyinbgo’s thoughts on these two superb athletes thought-provoking, and I believe you will as well!
Erriyon Knighton and Letsile Tebogo: The true rising stars of global sprinting
When Erriyon Knighton picked up the gong for his second World Athletics Rising Star award, there were few whispers about his eligibility for the award, but just as he was deserving of it, there was a distinct possibility the likes of Botswanan sprinter Letsile Tebogo and Jamaica’s Jumper Jaydon Hibbert could as well have won it, and it won’t have caused much controversy.
Knighton seems the more established star, considering he popped up shortly before the Olympics in Tokyo and finished in the Top five of the men’s 200m. But with regards to Sprinting and their achievements in the grand scheme of things, there was very little to separate them this year.
This year, his major highlights were winning 200m bronze at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon and becoming the youngest individual medallists in a men’s event in World Championship history.
For Tebogo this year, he twice broke the Under-20 world record for 100 meters earlier this year – first with his time of 9.94 seconds at the World Championships, then a few weeks later when he ran 9.91 seconds at the U20 World Championships.
The reality is a fully fit Knighton is surely going to take over the 200m for the next couple of years, while Tebogo will go on and break records in years to come over the 100m. But like every prodigy who have emerged with glowing recommendations at the Youth and Junior level, going to dominate can be a herculean task.
The beauty of our sport is understanding where stats should end and comparing athletes using the eye-test point of view. These athletes know how hard it is to sustain brilliance. It’s tough enough to turn a run of positive performances into a good season. To go on and do it for a decade in the most competitive of sprint events while also winning laurels will be nothing short of astounding.
Interestingly, Tebogo enjoys the longer dash event, more than 100m, and his target is to join the sub-20 club. He was disappointed when he finished second behind Nigeria’s Udodi Onwuzurike in the 200m last year in Kenya, but in his quest to reclaim the title in 2022, he lost out to Israel’s Blessing Akwasi Afrifah at this year’s U20 Championships in Cali, Columbia.
It was at that Championship he became a household name, establishing him as one of the most exciting prospects in track and field – not only because of the ease with which he appeared to pull away from the other competitors but also because of his premature celebrations about 20 meters before the finish line. As he gestured to his right side and wagged his finger in delight, reminiscent of Bolt’s winning signature at the Beijing Olympics, Tebogo suddenly became the talk of the athletics world.
This is a Tebogo who had difficulties growing up and not having the not-so-ideal nurturing way Knighton had, alongside having to navigate the rigours of not having the best coaches. A certain sprinting great shares similarities in how he moved camp to join Glen Mills in 2006, and like they say, the rest is history.
This year though, we have seen how squidgy they can be. Time and again, Knighton and Tebogo got unpicked by Noah Lyles and the likes of Simbine when it mattered most at the world championships – Is it a pattern that might get better as they age? We might never know. It all depends on how they navigate the rigors of potential defeats and the pressure of staying at the top of the rankings.
Whatever the result of the athletics rising star award, it’s pretty obvious that both sprinters deserved to win it. It’s equally clear that it isn’t possible as Knighton got it eventually because he has the blessed luck of being nurtured in one of the best countries for an upstart in track and also having the advantage of looking up to some of the best that have done it in the sport. There isn’t enough peroxide in the world.
Beyond their upbringing, both sprinters share a couple of similarities with how they execute their race. In full flight on an athletics track, both sprinters are pictures of composure; their long, floating stride and easy running form guide them to record times on the junior circuit.
When next season comes around, there will be a whole lot more going on than Knighton vs. Tebogo, and yet the mind – and of course, in most races – will be drawn back there, again and again. The beautiful prodigious talents shaping the world of sprinting.
A suggestion: the only reason both Knighton and Tebogo aren’t already regarded as the best sprinters in the world is that everybody’s a bit concerned that it might still be Lyles and Fred Kerley. Obviously, every part of that statement can be argued with, but hopefully, it feels a little bit true. But if you use the eye test to judge, you might have a different opinion.
Beyond the rankings, the contrast in styles makes this so interesting: not just a sprinting contest but a meditation on what it means to start over again and what it takes to become the best and dominate the sprinting world.