Andre De Grasse wasn’t able to overcome the slow start in Tokyo, but he’s just getting started.
No, De Grasse didn’t win a gold but he grinded out a bronze -- further establishing himself as one of the world’s most decorated sprinters.
He came out in Tokyo looking like a man on a mission, running 9.91, the fastest in his first heat, the fastest time this year.
De Grasse was slated to run in the toughest semifinal and, after a false start and multiple technical issues with the start technology, a long delay meant some tense runners.
The false start in the semi and final were shades of Donovan Bailey in at Atlanta in 1996, where there was also a false start and a long delay.
De Grasse put up a 9.98 in the semifinals that got him through but got him stuck with a terrible lane assignment -- out on an island in lane nine.
Surprise winner, Italian Marcell Jacobs, sprinted ahead of the competition to win the men’s 100-metre dash in 9.80 seconds. American Fred Kerley finished in 9.84 and De Grasse was third with 9.89.
BRONZE FOR ANDRE DE GRASSE
He finishes behind Lamont Marcell Jacobs and Fred Kerley in the men’s 100m final pic.twitter.com/U7OfVgC9Qr
— CBC Olympics (@CBCOlympics) August 1, 2021
De Grasse was in last place at 25 metres, which generally means your night is over in lane nine. But, similar to his preparation leading up to these games, he was calm enough to not panic, keep his head down and keep working.
He’s overcome not just in this meet but in between Olympics. Two hamstring tears made sure his 2017 and 2018 campaigns were dogged with injury plus the delay of the 2020 games due to the pandemic put a wrinkle in his training taper. The fact he was on the start line and healthy was a victory in itself.
The Canadian sprinter ran a personal best 9.89 in the 100-metre final, winning back-to-back Olympic bronze in the event.
By doing so, De Grasse earned Canada’s first medal won by a man at these Games, adding to the dominance of the women in and out of the pool.
He also climbs up the list of the best times by a Canadian in the 100-metre race, now just behind Bailey’s (1996 Olympics) 9.84 and Bruny Surin’s (1999 World Championship) 9.84, tying the 9.89 by Surin in the 1998 Canadian Championship.
De Grasse is in great company, but the gold would have changed his trajectory and cemented him as the face of Canadian athletics.
The “world’s fastest man” title was unchallenged for most of Usain Bolt’s career. That was supposed to change at these Games. With Christian Coleman’s drug-test-related Tokyo absence, Trayvon Bromell entered the Games as the betting favorite, but he struggled through the heats and missed the final. Bromell entered Tokyo with wins in 15 of his previous 16 100-meter races. His absence on Sunday seemed to clear the top of the podium for De Grasse.
De Grasse rarely dominates on the Diamond League circuit, but “Big Race Dre” often plays possum and saves his best for when it really counts.
It was a wide-open field all set up for De Grasse to take the torch in the 100-metres. Since 1996, there've been just four sprinters to win the Olympic men's 100-metre, with Bailey doing so for Canada, as well as Americans Maurice Greene and Justin Gatlin and, of course, Jamaican Usain Bolt as a three-time champion.
“He's going to be good; he runs just like me, I mean he's really slow at the blocks but when he gets going, he gets going” Bolt said in 2016, predicting De Grasse would rise and take the mantle after Bolt retired.
De Grasse responded at the time by saying “He feels like I'm the next one, and now I'm just trying to live up to it.” Which honestly might be impossible.
He has the dual pressure being the heir apparent of Bolt on the world stage and Bailey in Canada.
Plus, the pressure to keep up in his own home. De Grasse and his partner, world champion hurdler Nia Ali, are the fastest parents to their daughter, Yuri, in the world and this looked like De Grasse was going to bring his own gold medal to the household.
So although this might feel like failing to live up to that hype, the key thing to remember is De Grasse is still only 26 years old and will by 29 when the next Olympics come around. Barring injury and interest, he could have another Olympics -- if not two. For context, Bailey was 29 when he won Olympic gold in Atlanta in 1996.
De Grasse is eight-for-eight in Olympic and world championship finals, every big race he’s been in he’s won a medal. De Grasse continues to add to his legacy of big race consistency even though the gold medal still eludes him.
After winning silver in the 200-metres at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and the World Championships in 2019, another individual medal is still within reach in 2021.
It was not to be on Sunday, but his best opportunity actually lies ahead of him as he’s better positioned to win gold in the 200-metre and the Canadians will also be in the mix in the 4x100-metre final.
In the 200-metre his personal best is 19.80, which is a national record.
Andre De Grasse of Canada reacts after winning the bronze medal in the Men's 100m final during the summer Tokyo Olympics in Tokyo, Japan on Sunday, August 1, 2021. (Frank Gunn/CP)
De Grasse usually runs the field down, which is why his 200-metre prospects are even stronger than his 100. But the one 100 is the marquee event, the money maker that might feel like an opportunity lost even though the performance was strong.
De Grasse though still has a positive perspective.
"I feel like every year I'm getting better. I still got time in me" said the ever optimistic to De Grasse to CBC trackside in the mixed zone after his race. “I gave it my best. I’m grateful for my performance”
De Grasse had not gone under 9.9 in 61 professional races so now that that barrier has been broken the sky is the limit.
It’s important not to downplay the significance of the 9.89 personal-best getting him his fourth Olympic medal.
De Grasse didn’t lose gold — he earned bronze. In becoming the first Canadian sprinter to claim two medals in the 100-metre, he showed he can grind out results and that his best is likely still ahead of him, at these games and beyond.