Andre De Grasse wins gold in men's 100m
Canadian takes final in 10.05 seconds
Three years and about 400 metres from where he first felt a track beneath his feet, Andre De Grasse hosted his coming-out party Wednesday night.
The 20-year-old from Markham, Ont., won the 100 metres at the Pan American Games, for his first major international victory.
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And moments after it was over, he glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the old York University track where Tony Sharpe discovered him in a high school meet.
"I still remember that race to this day ... hey Tony? Where you first spotted me?" he hollered in the direction of his Canadian coach Sharpe.
De Grasse made up for a bad start, crossing in 10.05 seconds to outlean Ramon Gittens of Barbados (10.07).
His victory came on a night Canada's Melissa Bishop also won gold in the women's 800 metres, and Sarah Wells captured silver in the 400 hurdles. Decathlete Damian Warner also had a strong day, taking a lead into Thursday's Day 2.
The story of De Grasse's discovery is well-told: he ran his first race in Grade 11 on a whim, and won — in basketball shorts and shoes, and using no starting blocks. Sharpe knew he'd seen something special.
Wednesday night, the young sprinter, in diamond earrings and a gold chain with a large tattoo covering his left shoulder, broke into a shy smile when the near-capacity crowd roared at his introduction.
"Aw, it was great," he said. "I think they gave me an extra boost of energy, the crowd was amazing, I hear them cheering my name and screaming my name."
De Grasse was virtually unknown outside of track and field circles until just weeks ago, but he's become one of the biggest stars of these Games. His likeness graces posters on subway stations around the city. He's been offered a seven-figure shoe deal, a source recently told The Canadian Press.
Wednesday, more than two dozen photographers fought for sitting room at the finish line to capture the moment.
There's been speculation about how De Grasse would handle the big-race pressure.
"I think he did well, I was very excited for such a young talent, a young kid to come through like he did tonight," said Caryl Smith Gilbert, his coach at University of Southern Califoria. "I'm very excited, I loved the way he finished the race, I hate the way he started. It made me nervous.
"But I was very pleased for his first big-time 100 metres international to see him do a great job."
The victory is the latest highlight in a season that has seen De Grasse nonchalantly lay down one spectacular performance after another in both the 100 and 200. He became the first Canadian to break the 10-second barrier in 15 years at the Pac 12 championships several weeks ago. He's done it a few times since.
He also broke the 200 Canadian record. And at last month's NCAA championships, he ran 9.75 to win the 100, then — less than 45 minutes later — won the 200 in 19.58. Both races were slightly over the allowable wind of 2.00 metres per second.
His time Wednesday wasn't near his best. But it was both a chilly night and not De Grasse's prime focus of the season. That comes next month at the world championships in Beijing where he'll take on big guns Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt.
"We're partly training through this meet, so he's not as light as he probably could be," Smith Gilber said. "It's hard to have an NCAA championship peak, and a Canadian championship peak, and a Pan Am peak and world championships, so we had to pick and choose what we could do."
De Grasse is also racing the 200 and the 4x100-metre relay at Pan Ams.