Silja Kosonen and Erriyon Knighton
As the countdown to the World Athletics Awards 2021 continues, we shine a spotlight on the five women and five men who have been nominated for this year’s Rising Star awards. The winners will be selected by an international panel of experts and be announced live at the World Athletics Awards 2021 on 1 December.
Despite a sporting background that includes football, swimming, skiing and orienteering, it is within athletics that Silja Kosonen has navigated her way to the very top.
From world and European U20 titles to global age-group and national senior records, it has been a standout year for the 18-year-old Finnish thrower, who started the season with a hammer best of 71.34m to her name.
That wasn’t to remain her PB for long. Making her season debut in the snow at the Finnish Winter Throwing Championships in Kaustinen in early March, Kosonen improved to 72.44m – a senior national record that also broke the long-standing European U20 record set by the late 2000 Olympic champion Kamila Skolimowska.
A few months later, she graduated from being the best ever in Europe to the best in the world, throwing 73.43m in Vaasa in June to break the 16-year-old world U20 hammer record held by China’s Zhang Wenxiu. With that performance the teenager secured her second successive Finnish Championships gold, and she went on to claim the European U20 title in Tallinn.
But in a busy year, Kosonen still had plenty to aim for. Making her Olympic debut in Tokyo two weeks later, she threw 70.49m to finish 14th in qualifying, a mark which saw her place in the top half of the field.
By the time she lined up at the World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi, Kosonen had thrown beyond 70 metres in six competitions throughout the season and she added another to that tally to gain her first global gold in Kenya.
Starting her series with 70.53m, she improved to a championship record of 71.64m in the second round and recorded 68.41m in the third, before fouling the fourth, throwing 65.28m in the fifth and then 70.63m in the sixth.
She later explained how her win meant “everything”.
“It shows that I can get good results, even under a lot of pressure,” said Kosonen, who led a repeat of the European podium also featuring French thrower Rose Loga and Maryola Bukel of Belarus. “I can say that I am a world champion. It means so much.
“It has just been the perfect season. I’m going to remember this day forever. Out of my five well taken throws, three of them were above 70 metres, and that shows me that I am on the right track in my career.”
Well and truly on track, if this year’s performances are anything to go by.
Still aged just 17, Erriyon Knighton is already the fastest U20 200m runner of all time and he will remain eligible for the age group throughout all of 2022 and 2023.
The world U20 record he broke this year? It belonged to a certain Usain Bolt, as did the world U18 best Knighton also improved. During a superb season of sprinting, the US athlete took his PB in the half lap event from 20.33 to 19.84 and became an Olympic finalist, finishing just 0.19 shy of a medal in fourth.
A huge achievement, but he had wanted even more. “I just never want to feel this feeling ever again,” he said later. “So, I just have to come back again.
“The goal from the start was to make the podium. I’m just taking it all in, that’s all you can do.”
He certainly seemed to take the season in his speedy long stride. Hailing from Tampa in Florida, Knighton had turned professional at the start of the year and opened his outdoor season with a 200m PB of 20.31 before running a wind-assisted 9.99 for 100m. He took 0.01 off his 200m best at the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting at Mt SAC but then really stormed into the spotlight in Jacksonville at the end of May. Winning against some top competition, he ran 20.11 to take 0.02 from the world U18 best set by Bolt in 2003.
Then it was time for the US Olympic Trials. First the teenager cruised to another world U18 best of 20.04 to win his heat and he later explained how he believed a time of 19.8 or 19.7 would be needed to make the US Olympic team.
He was up for the challenge.
He won his semifinal in 19.88, breaking the world U20 record of 19.93 set by Bolt in 2004, and went even quicker in the final, his time of 19.84 placing him third, to secure his spot on the team for Tokyo.
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Once there, at what was only his second ever competition outside of the USA, he won his heat and semifinal in respective times of 20.55 and 20.02 before running 19.93 in the final to finish behind only Canada’s Andre De Grasse and his US teammates Kenny Bednarek and Noah Lyles.
“He’s going to be dangerous in the future,” silver medallist Bednarek said when asked about Knighton after the race. “Seventeen years old and being able to run this fast. He’s raw, got a lot of talent and a lot of things to work on. He’s definitely going to be a monster in the future.”