Athletics-Track-and-Field

Andre De Grasse advances to 100m semifinals

Canada’s newest sprint sensation Andre De Grasse easily advanced to the Pan Am Games semifinals in the 100 metres on Tuesday. Meanwhile, teammate Gavin Smellie was disqualified for a false start.

Canada's Gavin Smellie disqualified for false start

Canada’s Andre De Grasse advanced to the 200m finals after winning his semifinal heat Thursday. (Mark Humphrey/The Canadian Press )

Andre De Grasse arrived in Toronto amid plenty of fanfare as one of the biggest stars of the Pan American Games.

But the 20-year-old from Markham, Ont., was all business Tuesday morning, running 10.06 seconds to cruise to an easy win in his 100-metre heat to qualify for Wednesday's semifinals.

"He went out basically just to qualify today," said coach Tony Sharpe. "Nothing special, looked like he kind of took it easy out of the blocks, figured out where he was at 60 metres and ran to qualify, basically."

Afterward, De Grasse walked through the media mixed zone without stopping and talking to reporters — which isn't entirely unusual in the early rounds of track races.

Rapid ascent

Outside of track circles, De Grasse was virtually unknown before he began reeling off blistering fast times this season. He took up track in Grade 11 when Sharpe spotted him at a high school meet at York University. He blew away the field despite wearing basketball shorts and using no starting blocks.

At last month's NCAA championships, the junior at University of Southern California won the 100 in 9.75, then followed it up less than 45 minutes later with a win in the 200, in 19.58. Neither time stood as any kind of record because the wind was over the legal 2.00 metres per second.

The performance made the former basketball player an instant face of these Games. He's on huge posters in subway stations around Toronto.

"The expectations are now on him, things have changed a little bit, before he was kind of in the background," Sharpe said. "Now that it's found him, it'll be great to see how he responds to that bit of pressure that's been put on him.

"Now you know who Andre De Grasse is, it's a little different. You don't know how he'll respond, but I have a feeling he's going to be just fine."

De Grasse holds the Canadian record in the 200 metres of 20.03, set in May, and will take aim at the 100 metre record of 9.84 shared by Donovan Bailey and Bruny Surin.

Like Bailey and Surin, Sharpe said De Grasse has the ability to come up big in big races.

"He's proven that with the NCAA, it doesn't get a whole lot bigger than that field that he pretty well smashed a few weeks ago," Sharpe said.

De Grasse is running the 100, 200 and 4x100-metre relay in Toronto. He's training through these Games, with his sights set on the world championship podium next month in Beijing.

Smellie disqualified

Gavin Smellie of Brampton, Ont., was disqualified for a false start in his 100-metre heat.

"They said I false started, but when I heard the gun I went. It doesn't make any sense," Smellie said. 

Sharpe said the heats also provided a chance to get a feel for the track and the starting blocks at the new stadium at York University.

The 100-metre final is Wednesday evening.

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