Perhaps the world’s next sprint star wasn’t so hard to find after all. For while Usain Bolt went away, the persistent Andre De Grasse never did.
De Grasse, the brilliant Canadian who ran his first sprint as a teen in baggy basketball shorts and borrowed spikes, at last, has an Olympic gold medal in the 200m as his deserved reward after a career of near-misses in the Bolt era.
De Grasse powered past Americans Kenny Bednarek and Noah Lyles to finish in 19.62 seconds on Wednesday and take one of the titles that the great Bolt had owned for the previous three Olympics.
It fills out a medal collection for the 26-year-old that was only missing gold after he’d amassed two silvers and six bronzes at Olympics and world championships since 2015.
Four nights earlier, it had been another case of so near but so far as he took bronze in the 100m – just as in Rio four years earlier – that he might have been expected to win.
Given all he’s been through, it was no surprise when he revealed that he’d been crying behind shades he wore for the race.
“It’s my first time being so emotional on the track,” De Grasse said.
“I always thought I came up short winning bronze and silver, so it’s just good to have that gold medal. No one can take that away from me.”
The most memorable of De Grasse’s near-misses came in 2016 when he took silver in the 200m in Rio and had the audacity to mess with Bolt.
It was a semi-final and the two were far ahead of the field and easily going to qualify. But on instructions from his coach, who wanted to wear out the champ, De Grasse kept pushing.
Bolt won the race but playfully wagged his finger at De Grasse. The moment went viral, and Bolt insisted he wasn’t pleased. He came back to blow away De Grasse in the final, by nearly a quarter of a second.
“I came back for that final and I was gassed, tired,” De Grasse said.
“I looked to my side, and I said I’m going to have to get second. I can’t catch him.”
Lesson learned, and since Bolt left the scene, De Grasse, the first sprint champ for Canada since Donovan Bailey won the 100 at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, said he’s only become stronger and fitter – and now his moment really has arrived.
He went through injuries and setbacks virtually every year since his close calls in Rio and admits there were times when he wondered if he’d ever make it to the top step of the podium.
“Worth the wait, definitely,” he said.
Quite an accomplishment for a one-time basketball point guard who got into the track on a whim.
On the bus in high school, he bumped into a friend, who challenged him to come out to the track. De Grasse thought he could beat his buddy, so he went out in his basketball shorts, started from a standing position and finished in 10.9.
An Olympic bronze medalist from 1984, Tony Sharpe, was sitting in the stands that day, looking for new talent. He saw that race and said, “Who is this guy?”
That was in 2012.
Now it’s 2021, and nobody is asking anymore.