'Andre De Grasse is going to shine': Sizing up men's Olympic 100 metres
Canadian sprint star's health, consistency key in wide-open field, Donovan Bailey says
There may not be a better story on the track in 2021, at least in the 100 metres, than Trayvon Bromell.
At the 2016 Olympics, the American sprinter tore his Achilles during the men's 4x100 relay in Rio and spent much of the next three years working to regain his elite form.
This season, Bromell has been nearly unbeatable, winning six of seven races in the 100 — including a 9.80-second performance at U.S. Olympic trials — and boasting a 2021 world-leading time of 9.77 entering the Tokyo competition.
"From a timed perspective, yes, he should be favoured [to win Olympic gold]," said Donovan Bailey, the 1996 Olympic 100m champion and former world record holder.
But the sprinter-turned-CBC Sports analyst remembers when Bromell, while running for Baylor University, was supposed to dominate the 2015 NCAA track and field championships in Oregon.
"There was a little kid from USC [University of Southern California] named Andre De Grasse that crushed him in the 100 and 200," Bailey recalled. "I'm certain [it's] one thing Bromell is thinking about and a tiny part of him remembers."
On June 12, 2015, a 20-year-old De Grasse pulled away from defending NCAA champion Bromell in the final 30 metres of the 100 and crossed the line first in a wind-assisted 9.75, with Bromell following in 9.88 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
The Canadian also prevailed in a non-legal wind in the 200, stopping the clock in 19.58, while Bromell was third in 19.86.
Bailey told CBC Sports' Scott Russell that he believes De Grasse, a triple medallist at the Rio Olympics, is playing possum and could win the 100 and 200 in Japan.
Working on race strategy in Diamond League
De Grasse has used his time wisely on the Diamond League professional circuit this season as a practising ground for the Olympics, Bailey noted, the way the retired speedster did in the early 1990s.
"I didn't care about winning in Zurich or Brussels," Bailey said. "I was working on race strategy every single time I was competing against the best people. I see Andre doing that this year."
I'm really not worried about [his recent] results and not at all concerned what times he has run.— CBC Sports analyst Donovan Bailey on Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse
It might explain, besides other race variables such as temperature, wind and a wet track, the wide range of De Grasse's finishing times in 2021 — from a season-best 9.99 to 10.27. Only once in seven races has the 26-year-old from Markham, Ont., run under 10 seconds in a legal wind.
De Grasse also hadn't placed outside the top three until his final two pre-Olympic races, clocking 10-flat in Monaco on July 9 and 10.13 four days later on a cool evening at Gateshead International Stadium in England.
"I'm really not worried about [his recent] results and not at all concerned what times he has run," Bailey said in a recent phone interview with CBC Sports. "It is crazy for anyone to believe that any time you step on the track, you're going to break a world record.
"I'm more concerned he's injury-free and been consistent. He got out of the [starting] blocks well in Gateshead, where it was freezing cold, transitioned well [to the acceleration phase], finished OK, and that's a win."
With a trained eye, Bailey has noticed technical changes De Grasse has made under the tutelage of coach Rana Reider in Florida since earning a bronze medal in a personal-best 9.90 at the 2019 world championships.
"He's a little stronger, knows when to turn on and shut off his speed, and relaxing when he needs to," Bailey said. "When you do this, you can let it all out on the track when you get to an Olympic final.
"You can lose every race all year, win at the Olympics and you're fine."
Bromell 'tightens up' if he makes early mistake
The retirement of Usain Bolt, who won the last of three consecutive 100m titles in 2016, has set the stage for a new king of sprinting. The field has been wide open, according to Bailey, since American star Christian Coleman was suspended for two years last October by track and field's Athletics Integrity Unit because of three violations of doping control rules. His suspension was reduced to 18 months in April.
Americans Ronnie Baker and Fred Kerley, the 2019 world bronze medallist in the 400, have clocked 9.85 this season. Baker, who has had his share of injuries in recent years, beat Bromell in Monaco for his second straight victory.
"Ronnie Baker beat Bromell after Bromell stutter-stepped on his second step out of the [starting] blocks," Bailey said. "If Bromell stutter steps [in Tokyo] or makes a mistake at the start of his race, he panics a little and tightens up. Andre will not tighten up. Fred will not tighten up. [Italy's Lamont] Jacobs will not tighten up, or [South Africa's Akani] Simbine."
Of the 28 Olympic 100m finals since the modern Games began in 1896, the United States has won 16.
Simbine, who was fifth in the 2016 Olympic final, is the only non-American inside the top-eight fastest times this season at 9.84.
"The time I ran, 9.84 [in the 1996 Olympic final] will win the Olympic Games in Tokyo," Bailey said. "This final is going to be phenomenal. I want to see who's hungry [for the title].
"I'll be looking in the eyes of these guys to find out who wants it the most. Ronnie Baker is executing and getting a lot more confident. Fred Kerley's got speed and endurance. Simbine just ran 9.84 [on July 6 in Budapest, Hungary] looking relaxed to beat Michael Rodgers [10-flat], but he didn't have anyone pressuring him.
"When the lights are shining brightest," Bailey continued, "[De Grasse] is going to shine, and I'm looking forward to that.... I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up at the top of the podium."
WATCH l Olympic Moments: De Grasse and Bolt side by side – a 2016 look back:
With files from Reuters