Remember When? Record-setting Mississippi sprint legend Bianca Knight
If you are a fan of track & field in Mississippi, Bianca Knight is one of the first names that comes to mind when anyone mentions all-time greats. Many know her best as a 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist on the World Record-setting 4x100m relay at the London Games, or for serving the sport’s community in her home state through the Bianca Knight Foundation that she launched.
But if you were around from 2002-07, you saw Knight rise from a middle school sprint prodigy to a record-smashing, championship-winning prep sprinter at Ridgeland High School, where she won 15 individual and 8 relay state titles and set state records in the 100m and 200m. And what she did in Mississippi is only part of the story, as Knight captured national and international titles at every level available to her.
Perhaps the greatest Bianca Knight moment during those years, however, was at the 2007 Simplot Games in Pocatello, Idaho, where as a senior she rocketed a single lap of the banked-board oval in 22.97 seconds – becoming the first girl to break 23 indoors, an achievement thought out of reach in the minds of many.
Knight’s unforgettable record returned to the spotlight this past winter when the 16-year-old standard was finally surpassed – first, by Mia Brahe-Pedersen in Spokane with a 22.89, then by Adaejah Hodge in Boston with a jaw-dropping 22.33.
Count Knight among those whose mind was blown a bit by what’s taken place in the girls’ 200m in 2023.
“Honestly, I was in disbelief when I first heard the news of my record being broken!” she admits. “I thought, ‘No way! By WHO!?’ And when I saw that it was Mia, I was like oh yea … I watched her run last year and I knew right away that she was going to be one to watch for years to come. I saw the time and was like wow! She really put it away!
“I am still processing Adaejah’s performance,” Knight continues. “I watched her race so many times and I feel like she actually could have gone faster! That’s so amazing to see these young athletes running times like this INDOORS. It shows that the sport is progressing, which is always a plus … but I’m still processing what we just witnessed.”
That 2007 Saturday afternoon at Simplot will always be special to Knight, however. “Being the first HS girl to go under 23 seconds indoors will always be an achievement I hold close to my heart,” she says. “We have had SO many amazing prep athletes who went on to make history in this sport, so to be the first is truly an achievement. As a prep, I never went into races with records on my mind, so at the time I had no idea just how phenomenal that time was, until the years kept passing and it seemed that no one could get close to it!”
Knight’s NSAF resume included three championships in Nike Indoor and Outdoor Nationals, plus six additional All-American finishes. The first was a 4th-place finish in the 200m as an 8th-grader in 2003. The pinnacle came in 2006, when she won the NON 200m as a junior in 23.06. “The biggest highlight for me at Nike Outdoor Nationals is when I set that age group record for the 200,” she says. “The competition was always so good there and I always ran well at NON.”
Knight’s international resume as a Youth and Junior (U20) athlete was perhaps even more stellar. She was chosen for the U.S. team for the 2005 World Youth Championships in Morocco, and came home with the gold in the 100m and medley relay, and the silver in the 200 – the top finishes for an American female sprinter until Candace Hill won three golds in 2015.
In 2006, Knight was chosen for the NSAF’s first Caribbean Scholastic Invitational (CSI) squad to compete in Puerto Rico, where she won golds in the 100 and 4x100 relay. “I was focused on making memories with so many of my teammates who later became World and Olympic Champions, so we were all just happy to be the first group to go over and compete at that meet for the U.S.,” she says.
Having qualified for the U.S. team for the World Juniors in China, Knight ran in a Nike Road to Eugene Junior meet in Oregon, helping her 4x1 set a World Junior record of 43.29, but getting injured in the process and missing competing at Worlds. But she made a positive return to the international stage the following year as she closed out her prep career with a 200m gold medal at the Pan American Junior Champs in Brazil.
“I performed very well on teams early on and always had amazing experiences traveling abroad,” she says. “The hosts were always amazing and we always had a good time representing the U.S.”
Of course, Knight has some fantastic memories representing Team USA at the Senior level, too, especially at the 2011 Worlds in Daegu, South Korea and the 2012 Olympics – both 4x100m gold medal performances.
“My greatest memory about both Daegu and London was being prepared when my name was called,” she says. “The regular season did not go well enough for me to go represent the U.S. in my open events, but I stayed focused and I was prepared to help anywhere I was needed, and resulted in 2 gold medals and a world record. So I’ll always be grateful for the fact that I went 2-for-2 when I was needed the most.”
Now, looking beyond her professional T&F career, the most important thing for Knight is to give back to the community and the sport that nurtured her and provide opportunities for other student-athletes to do the same, through the Bianca Knight Foundation and the invitational meet in Mississippi bearing her name.
“The most important thing my foundation does is serve those kids and programs who have the talent but don’t have the budget,” she says. “I had enough experience to know that in order to really be seen, and in order to show people what you can do, you have to travel and it is not cheap. Resources are far and few in between, so I try my best to close that gap in any way that I can, so that these young athletes can show the world what they can do. I know how much that exposure helped me, so it was a no-brainer to give back to the sport that has given so much to me.”