Move over, Bolt: Has Andre De Grasse found a new rival?
Recovering from a hamstring injury, Canadian looks forward to clashes with Christian Coleman
Andre De Grasse wanted to crash Usain Bolt's farewell party.
All the training he'd done was meant to have him peak at the world track and field championships this past August where he would have one last shot to take down the sprint legend.
But before the 22-year-old even got the opportunity, disaster struck.
De Grasse suffered a Grade 2 hamstring injury in training and competing could put his career in jeopardy.
"It wasn't like I was running fast, I was running [at] 40 per cent [of my max velocity when] it happened," recalls De Grasse, who was in town promoting next year's 2018 North American, Central America, and Caribbean (NACAC) track and field championships, otherwise known as Toronto 2018: Track & Field in the 6ix.
He had no choice but to withdraw — his season was over and to literally add insult to injury, his last hope of beating Bolt vanished.
Making matters worse, there would be no next time.
The Markham, Ont., native and his coach, Stuart McMillan, spoke for two hours trying to figure out what went wrong in their preparation.
"It could've been a lack of sleep, nutrition, a lot of travelling, [or] maybe doing too much outside of track because I did do a lot of things that I usually don't do," De Grasse says.
"We couldn't figure out what it really was. Did I run too fast early, did the runs early in the year shock my body because I never raced that much since college?"
De Grasse says the whole process was a humbling experience and perhaps a sign that it wasn't his time yet.
The three-time Olympic medallist is now in a better state mentally and is beginning to turn the page from the lowest point of his early career.
De Grasse returned to training last week — slowly easing himself back into things — and plans to go through a full cycle of drills next week. Doctors assured De Grasse he has nothing to worry about and shouldn't be afraid to go at it in practice.
New kid on the block
But a lot has changed since he last stepped onto a track.
A little over a year ago, De Grasse pushed Bolt — perhaps a little too much — in their semifinal heat of their 200-metre race at the Rio Olympics.
While the two were all smiles as they egged each other on, the Jamaican star let it be known afterwards that he wasn't pleased. Perhaps the young Canadian was getting a little under his skin.
At the past worlds, the antics continued as Bolt crossed the finish line of his 100-metre semifinal heat in second and as he looked ahead, saw nothing but a facial expression filled with confidence staring back at him.
But that face didn't belong to De Grasse, it belonged to Christian Coleman.
The American proved that was no fluke, beating Bolt once again in the final and falling just 0.02 seconds short of gold, which was won by compatriot Justin Gatlin.
Coleman officially announced his arrival to the sprinting world and suddenly looked to be Bolt's heir.
De Grasse couldn't help but think maybe that could've been him.
"I watched the 100 in my hotel room. Not being there sucked for me because I really thought I could be a part of something special," De Grasse says.
De Grasse sees a lot of himself in Coleman. Both won double gold in the 100- and 200-metre races at the NCAA Division I outdoor track and field championships (De Grasse in 2015 and Coleman earlier this year).
While De Grasse won bronze in his worlds debut in the 100, Coleman placed one spot higher in his own debut.
"I've never raced him before but I'm definitely looking forward to racing against him and seeing what he's like. He's definitely one of the guys to look out for," De Grasse says.
Make no mistake, De Grasse would love nothing more than to bring back the title of "world's fastest man" back to Canada.
Every time he returns home, De Grasse is reminded how proud Canadians are to call him their own, especially the kids that look up to him.
But De Grasse and Coleman's relationship is far from the bad blood that existed between the sport's classic Canada-U.S. sprint rivalries: Carl Lewis vs. Ben Johnson and Michael Johnson vs. Donovan Bailey
In fact, De Grasse and Coleman have barely talked with each other. De Grasse doesn't even know what Coleman is like off the track.
When asked about De Grasse, Coleman had nothing but praise for the Canadian and acknowledged that they could be friendly rivals like their predecessors — Bolt and Gatlin. De Grasse also cites another American, Treyvon Bromell, among the top competitors he looks forward to battling in the years to come.
"For sure, we're around the same age. I know Treyvon from 2015 [worlds] when I raced him and tied for bronze. There's definitely some guys from the U.S. who are coming up — every year, there's a new guy. First it was Treyvon, now it's him," De Grasse says.
It's safe to say De Grasse won't be racing on a track at the Rogers Centre any time soon. But he's willing to compete, even a street race, if it means growing the sport's profile.
People have lost faith in track and field with its share of doping scandals and De Grasse feels that it's up to himself and his counterparts — Coleman, Bromell, and Wayde Van Niekerk — to change that.
"It's a great generation of sprinters. Everyone is running personal bests, breaking their national record, and eventually we're trying to get to those world-record phases," De Grasse says.
"We're just trying to keep it up especially with all the things going on in the media about performance-enhancing drugs. We're trying to shut that all down and say, 'Hey! We're clean and we can break records as well.'"