Meet Justyn Knight: Canadian track star, Olympic hopeful, Syracuse legend
He lost his shoe and still won a championship race
My roommate is Justyn Knight, and he’s one of the most talented runners in North America.
Most people who have been through college have a crazy roommate story. You hear about the roommate who can’t hold their liquor or the one who turned out to be their bridesmaid; mine happens to be on his way to the Olympics.
It isn’t everyday I get to sit down and talk with him about his running career, but recently, I decided that I needed to catch up.
Growing up you were a big basketball star. How did you get into running track?
It’s actually a funny story. In grade 10 I had gym class, and it was always something I was good at, but for some reason, I wasn’t doing well at all. I talked to my teacher and asked what was up. He told me the only way I could get my mark higher was by running a 5k.
The actual race came and I ended up breaking the school record in the event with a 15:30. After that happened, I was asked to join the track team. I went home to my mom and received her permission. That’s how I got started.
What made you choose to run for Syracuse?
I guess being a top-of-my class recruit meant I had basically all the good running schools contact me. With ease, I narrowed it down to two schools, Wisconsin and Syracuse.
Originally, I didn’t think I was going to like Syracuse much, but I made the decision to visit because it was my second choice.
I remember the coaches being so modest. Everything the program has been through is wild. It was cool to hear how the coaches developed a team that was barely even ranked, to a team which is now third in the nation. I felt it was something I needed to be a part of.
During the 2014 indoor track season you broke the four-minute mile barrier running a 3:59.51. You cemented yourself into an elite group of runners (449 Americans and only 53 Canadians ran under the 4-minute mark). What kind of thoughts were going through your head after the race?
Man, I remember after the race it was interesting. My coach and I weren’t even focused on breaking the four-minute mile. He just told me to stay on my teammate Martin Hehir, who had also been attempting to run under four. If my coach tells me to do something, that’s the objective and that’s what I try to accomplish.
If you watch the video, I literally sat on Martin for the entire race. When I broke 4, I just knew that I accomplished something huge. Having two teammates break the school record in the same race was crazy.
I knew it was going to be the start of something special.
Last year you won the outdoor track ACC Championship in the 1500-meter relay with only one shoe. Immediately, you received the attention of Flotrack, Bleacher Report, and even ESPN. Did the publicity make it hard for you to focus on the upcoming championship races?
I remember finishing up at practice one day and checking Twitter. Usually I get about two notifications, but all of a sudden I had about thirty. I said to myself, “What could I have possibly done to get all these notifications?”
My friend had screenshotted an image off the Bleacher Report article and showed me an article written about the race on ESPN. It was pretty fun to get national attention like that.
Did it distract me? Not all at, I loved it dude. It made me focus more on my training because I didn’t want to be the kid who got all the attention and didn’t turn out to be good, you know?
Is it true there have been an increase of “fan girls” that have been following you on your journey?
Oh my God (laughing). I would have to say yes, I do have some fan girls, but that’s just on social media.
They don’t show me love all the time. Some of them do, but I don’t know man. I won’t say who’s a fan girl, but they know who they are.
The times you ran last season put you in close contention for representing Team Canada the 2016 Olympic games in Rio De Janiero. What’s the possibility of turning that dream into a reality?
I would say the possibility is pretty high right now, in the most humble way possible. All I got to do is stay healthy, have a good season, and continue to improve. If I end up running the standard, I have a really good shot dude.
In high school I didn’t even imagine getting a scholarship for athletics. Now I’m in a position where I might be able to compete for my country on the highest stage, it’s really cool.
Growing up in Toronto you had the renowned hip hop artist Drake at your fingertips. Any of his songs on your race day playlist?
To be honest, I’m not trying to be biased or anything, but any sort of track Drake puts out is fire. Recently, I like Draft Day by Drake. In the song he mentions this kid I grew up with, Andrew Wiggins. I also like Six God, Hotline Bling, Jump Man, and Pound Cake with Jay Z. Another one of my favorites is Trophies, a song they played when I was running the World Junior Outdoor Championships.
Around the locker room people refer to you as ‘J-Money’. How did the nickname originate?
In my off time, I like to release little records or mix tapes. You know, part of becoming a decent rapper is picking a good nickname for yourself. There are a bunch of nicknames I’ve been given in the past. Obviously J stands for Justyn and Money stands for what I get (laughing). Honestly J-Money just stuck. The coaches call me J-Money as well as my teammates, so it’s kind of just my name now.
Tell me a little bit more about the support system that has lead you to where you are today.
I can say from the bottom of my heart that I’m truly blessed to be a part of a really good family.
My mom has always been there for me. She always helps me to set myself up for greatness. Same with my dad, they did it together. My brother always made sure I stayed out of trouble. If he knows certain kids don’t have the same priorities set like I do, then he would take me out of the situation. I went to a really good private school and we have a really strong brotherhood there. My family and my high school have been really good to me.
Is there anything else you want to tell Syracuse?
I would just like to say thank you for all the support. Our team is very grateful to have you guys as fans and followers. I’m really blessed to be a part of a very fine athletic and academic institution.