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Erriyon Knighton, 17, leaving longtime pros in his wake in the 200 meters at Tokyo Olympics

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TOKYO — Before his first Olympic race, he yawned.

During his second Olympic race, he tilted his head as he came down the stretch, checking to see how fast he needed to run in order to win.

"I didn't mean it out of cockiness," Erriyon Knighton said later.

He is just 17 1/2 years old – the youngest American man to compete at the Summer Olympics since Jim Ryun in 1964. But in the first two rounds of 200-meter competition at the Tokyo Olympics, Knighton appeared in complete control, leaving 30-year-old men and longtime pros in his wake.

The former wide receiver at Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Florida, might not enter Wednesday's 200-meter final as the favorite – that title still probably belongs to fellow American and reigning world champion Noah Lyles – but he will certainly be favored to win a medal.

American Erriyon Knighton runs in the 200 meters at the Tokyo Olympics.
American Erriyon Knighton runs in the 200 meters at the Tokyo Olympics.

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Not too shabby for a guy in just his third season of competitive track.

"It feels really good to be here, because last year I was just at (AAU) Junior Olympics," Knighton said Tuesday. "So yeah, I'm here now. It feels really good."

His ascent to this point has been rapid and remarkable. Less than a year ago, at the Junior Olympics in question, Knighton ran the 200 in 20.33 seconds, setting a U.S. record for his age group. In mid-January, a few weeks shy of his 17th birthday, he announced he was turning pro.

In the six-plus months since, Knighton has broken two youth records that were previously held by Usain Bolt. He finished third at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, to book a spot on Team USA. And now, before his 18th birthday, he is racing in his first Olympic final.

"I don't really try to put my age in it," he said. "I just go out there and run like I'm an adult, just like they (are)."

Knighton won his preliminary heat Tuesday in 20.55 seconds, later admitting that he took his foot off the proverbial gas about 100 meters into the 200-meter race. "I knew I didn't have to do nothing else," he said.

In the semifinals, it appeared to be a bit closer – until Knighton came off the turn. He finished in 20.02 seconds, a time he had never run in competition until late June. But this time, he was looking over his shoulder as he crossed the finish line.

"He's a young, talented kid," said fellow American Kenny Bednarek, who is also vying for a medal in Wednesday's final. "He's very young and running that fast. So if he puts it all together, he's going to be a monster."

Knighton said he's trying to treat the Tokyo Olympics – the biggest international sporting event in the world – as just another track meet. But don't confuse his nonchalance about all of this with a lack of desire.

When asked if he feels like he's playing with house money as a 17-year-old in the Olympic final, Knighton said no. He's not here to simply be an age-related footnote in the history books, to pat himself on the back for making it to the final eight.

"My goal is to make the podium," Knighton said. "I'm just coming out here to do what I have to do."

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tokyo Olympics: Erriyon Knighton, 17, favored to win 200-meters medal