The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

They Said He Couldn’t Be Replaced

Aug 7th, 2022
1:59 pm PDT

I’ve been saying since before Covid, that the 200 meters is the deepest and most exciting event in the sport. Primarily because that’s where the bulk of the sprint talent is – on both the men and women’s sides. Judging from the results coming out of the World U20 Championships the deuce is only going to get better. Especially on the men’s side.

It’s rare that a young sprinter comes along that legitimately runs adult elite times in the 200. The most recent was a young Usain Bolt, who became the first to run sub20 (19.93) in 2004. Given what at that time was considered a legendary run, it was assumed that Bolt was a freak of nature to run that fast as a junior. A few years later, his record breaking exploits in 2008 (9.69/19.30) and 2009 (9.58/19.19) seemed to validate the claims of “freak of nature”. Word was that we wouldn’t see the likes of Usain again during our lifetime, if ever.

Well, that was a very short lifetime! As just this past week, at this year’s World U20 Championships, two young sprinters – Letsile Tobogo and Blessing Afrifrah – ran basically equal to Bolt with 19.96 clockings in the men’s 200 final! As if that weren’t fast enough, Erriyon Knighton has surpassed Bolt several times lead by his 19.49 earlier this year. The once in a lifetime athlete, has been replicated by a three pack!

And while Bolt’s 19.93 was a one off race in 2004 that was somewhat of a “preview” of his exciting potential. Knighton and Tobogo have been doing this regularly for the past two seasons!

Botswana’s Letsile had three 20.3x clockings in 2021 to go with a part of 10.1x’s. He was the World U20 champion in the 100 at 10.11. Giving the impression even then that the was “more where that came from”! He came back with a vengeance this year. Opening up at 10.08 before setting a World U20 record of 9.96. Letsile ran 9.94 at the adult World Championships. Then set another record of 9.91 at the U20 Championships. A race that would have been 9.8x had he not started showboating some 20 meters before the finish! He then clocked 19.99 in the opening round of the 200. Before the 19.96 final. Nothing that Letsile has done is a “one off”. He is the real deal, and a threat against the “men” at this point.

As is his American counterpart Erriyon Knighton. Erriyon has been competing against the adults for two seasons now. Making the US Olympic squad last year, and placing fourth. But the way, he broke Bolt’s U20 record, eventually running 19.84. He also started this year hot, clocking 19.49 in his opener. He’s had clockings of 19.80, 19.77, and 19.69, and took bronze at Worlds. Throw in a 10.04 in a rarely run 100 for him. So, no one offs for Erriyon either! Already one of the world’s leading 200 meter men!

The real surprise this season is the young Israeli, Blessing Afrifrah. He’s been good, but not any better than your better U20 sprinters. He started this season with a legal best of 20.94. He lowered it to 20.55 by Cali. Then went 20.37, 20.17, before the 19.96 race against Tobogo! Making him one of the huge surprises of this meet!

Ironically, Afrifrah’s performances are more like Bolt’s as a junior, than the other two. Knighton and Tobogo are well advanced of where Bolt was at this stage of the game. Which is why I believe we’re at the edge of the next great forward movement in the sprints. Something I will discuss in a future post. Meanwhile, we need to keep an eye on these young men. As they are not just the future of the sport, but the present. With the next World Championships just a year away in Budapest, it’s highly possible that all three, could be medalists.



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