Maybe the next world sprint star wasn’t that hard to find after all.
This is André De Grasse, the Canadian who ran his first sprint in baggy basketball shorts and borrowed cleats, and now has an Olympic gold in the 200 meters.
De Grasse passed a pair of Americans – Kenny Bednarek and favorite Noah Lyles – to finish in 19.62 seconds and win one of the titles Usain Bolt held in the last three Olympics.
It ends a series of close calls for the 26-year-old and completes a medal collection that was only missing a gold medal. De Grasse won bronze four nights earlier in the 100m to accompany the third place he won in Rio de Janeiro.
He also won a silver medal in the 200 there, although his time in Brazil is best known for the time he dared to play with Bolt.
It was a semi-final race and the two were way ahead of the field and would easily race for the medals. But De Grasse kept pushing. This forced Bolt to put things back into overdrive.
Bolt won the race but wagged his finger playfully at De Grasse. The moment went viral and Bolt insisted he wasn’t happy. He came back to topple De Grasse in the final, by almost a quarter of a second, but the champion suggested the extra energy didn’t help in his futile quest to set his world record of 19.19.
Lesson learned, and since Bolt left the stage, the world is looking for someone, anyone, to take their place at renowned track events.
Italian sprinter Marcell Jacobs came out of nowhere to win the 100, leaving De Grasse behind in what is widely considered his second best distance.
And finally, De Grasse cashed in. This is his first gold in a major event after amassing two silver and six bronze medals at the Olympics and world championships since 2015.
“It’s persistence,” said Canadian decathlete Damian Warner, who hung around the track to watch his teammate win. “He had to face Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, all those tough competitors. So it’s not like he’s suffocating or losing in the final. He loses against very great athletes.
This time he beat some – notably Lyles, who was on a tough road to the Tokyo Olympics. He has spoken openly about his own mental health issues and how the pandemic has disrupted everything.
At one point it looked like he was heading for a 100-200 double-handed attempt. But his 100 at the Olympic Trials was a mess, and his best run of the season was the 200 final in Eugene, Ore..
Lyles made a mistake the day before in the semi-final, slowing too far ahead of the line, getting ahead for the automatic two spots and having to wait to see if his time would earn him a qualifying spot.
It cost him in the final. Forced to rush into lane 3, where all the best competitions run behind him, Lyles left too quickly. He had his head in the hometretch but had nothing more to give.
“Unfortunately I didn’t see anyone and I was running for my life,” said Lyles. “I thought I was the only one behind. I felt like I was the one chasing.
No. De Grasse was hunting. And catch. And, finally, win. He is the first sprint gold medalist for Canada since Donovan Bailey won the 100 at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Quite an achievement for a former playmaker who started on a whim. On the high school bus, he ran into a friend, who challenged him to go out on the track. De Grasse thought he could beat his boyfriend, so he stepped out in basketball shorts, stood up and finished in 10.9.
Olympic bronze medalist Tony Sharpe was sitting in the stands that day, saw him and said, “Who is this guy?”
It was 2012. Not a decade later, nobody asks more.
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