Track·Preview

'Andre De Grasse is going to shine': Sizing up men's Olympic 100 metres

With Usain Bolt retired, a new king of sprinting will be crowned in the men's 100 metres on Sunday at the Tokyo Olympics — and it wouldn't be surprising to 1996 champion Donovan Bailey if Canada's Andre De Grasse stood atop the podium.

Canadian sprint star's health, consistency key in wide-open field, Donovan Bailey says

CBC Sports analyst Donovan Bailey believes Canadian Andre De Grasse, a triple medallist at the 2016 Rio Olympics, is playing possum and could win the sprint double in the 100 and 200 metres in Tokyo. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

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.

WATCH | The 100 metres, explained: 

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The 100m dash is the most electrifying 10 seconds in sports. Usain Bolt and Florence Griffith Joyner have been on top of the world for years, being the earth's fastest humans. But how fast can humans really run, and have we reached our peak? 7:06

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."

WATCH | The Olympians — Andre De Grasse: 

The Olympians: Andre De Grasse (Family)

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Andre De Grasse and his partner, World Champion hurdler Nia Ali, are quite possibly the fastest parents in the world. Having to have had to really time manage and navigate logistics while preparing for the Olympics because they are also full time parents to their young daughter Yuri. 2:11

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.

WATCH | Olympic flashback — De Grasse shines in showdown with Bolt: 

Olympic Flashback: Andre De Grasse shines in Rio 2016 showdown with Usain Bolt

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Watch highlights of Andre De Grasse and Usain Bolt battling it out and building a bromance at the Rio 2016 Olympics. 0:43

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].

WATCH | Donovan Bailey felt 'no pressure' night he won gold: 

Donovan Bailey felt ‘no pressure at all’ the day he made history in Atlanta

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Bailey became one of Canada’s most iconic sports figures when he set the 100m world record at Atlanta 1996, running a time of 9.84 seconds to become the world’s fastest man and an Olympic gold medallist. 0:49

"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:

Olympic Moments: De Grasse and Bolt side by side – a 2016 look back

3 months ago
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A look back at the epic stare-down and smile shared between Canada's Andre De Grasse and Jamaica's Usain Bolt, two of the fastest, no longer sharing the world stage. Olympic Moments presented by Visa. 1:27

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

With files from Reuters

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