Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse wins bronze in men's 100 metres
Thirty metres into his bronze-medal run, Canada's sprint star Andre De Grasse was in last place.
But if his starts have been his weakness, his ability to make up ground -- and his sheer will to win when the lights are the brightest -- have been his strengths.
And so, the 26-year-old from Markham, Ont., overcame a shaky start to finish third in the men's 100 metres at Tokyo Stadium on Sunday, his fourth Olympic medal and second consecutive bronze in the race that crowns "the world's fastest man."
"I ran a personal best by 0.01. But I know I can do so much better," De Grasse said afterward. "I just really have to continue to keep focusing on my start, because that's really what's going to help me become a gold medallist one day."
Running out of Lane 9, De Grasse crossed in 9.89 seconds, beating his previous best time of 9.90 set at the 2019 world championships.
Lamont Marcell Jacobs shocked the field by winning gold in 9.80 seconds, sending reporters scrambling to find information about the little-known Texas-born Italian.
"I felt like my main competition would be the Americans. I knew the Americans were going to bring it, so that really shocked me and surprised me," De Grasse said, adding it's the first time he's raced Jacobs. "It really shows that our sport is pulling in a good direction, because you never know who's going to be able to win. Any one of us can win on any given night."
American Fred Kerley was second in 9.84 seconds. All three medallists ran personal bests.
It was Canada's first track and field medal at the Tokyo Olympics, and also the latest piece of hardware in the event for De Grasse, who won bronze in the 100 in both the 2016 Olympics and 2019 world championships.
Two hours earlier, De Grasse ran 9.98 to finish second in his semifinal and seventh overall.
De Grasse is the first Canadian male to climb the medal podium in Tokyo. Led by swimming superstar Penny Oleksiak, women had captured all of Canada's 13 previous medals.
"I didn't even realize that," De Grasse said with a laugh. "That's awesome. That's cool."
De Grasse said nerves might have contributed to his slow start. Zharnel Hughes had just been disqualified for a false start. And fellow Brit Reece Prescod was ejected for the same reason in De Grasse's semifinal.
"When you have so many false starts you're a little bit tentative. You get a little nervous. I don't want to false start," De Grasse said. "But I tried to just execute the best way I can."
De Grasse will have a day off before he's back on the track for the 200 heats and semifinal on Tuesday. The 200 is his better event -- and based both on his ability to accelerate over the longer distance, and the fact the 200 has been a bigger focus this season, he could challenge for gold.
His podium finish was the latest chapter in what's been a fabulous comeback for the Canadian, who missed the better part of two seasons with hamstring injuries. Plenty of people wrote him off. But he roared back with his two medals at the worlds in Doha in October of 2019, and had hoped to ride that momentum straight into Tokyo.
Then COVID-19 brought sports to a screeching halt and pushed back the Olympics a year. De Grasse was disappointed at the time.
Sunday, he was all smiles, a Canadian flag draped around his angular shoulders, his gold sunglasses perched on his head. He looked forward to getting through interviews so he could call his mom Beverly and partner Nia Ali, the reigning world hurdles champion who gave birth to their second child -- a son -- in May.
"To get back on the podium, it's a great feeling, especially when we didn't know last year if this was even going to happen, and, of course, the past couple of years battling injuries," he said. "So, just really happy to be back out here again racing."
Because of the state of emergency in Tokyo, however, there were no fans permitted in Olympic Stadium. The runners played to the camera during introductions, De Grasse popping his Canada singlet and patting a hand to his chest three times with a wide grin.
The stadium spotlights were dimmed for a glitzy pre-race light show. But it didn't make up for the electricity of an Olympic 100 final with fans.
"It was different. To be honest, it was really tough for me because I really thrive off of the crowd. It gets me going," De Grasse said. "So I really try to just pump myself up any way I can, listen to music, try to talk to myself, tell myself `Come on, let's go,.' But it was really hard for me, because I'm used to hearing the crowd noise.
"I'm looking forward to next year at world championships in (Eugene) Oregon when there'll be fans again."
It wasn't just fans missing Sunday. Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt, who utterly dominated the sprints for more than a decade, has retired, leaving no clearcut favourite in Tokyo.
Jacobs was born in El Paso -- the son of an American father and an Italian mother - and moved to Italy as a young boy when the U.S. military transferred his dad to South Korea. He was a long-jump specialist for years, and his biggest major running success came in an indoor 60-metre title at European champions earlier this year.
His personal best was an Italian record, 9.95 seconds, set in May. It was the first time he'd broken 10 seconds.
American Trayvon Bromell, who came into Tokyo with the world's leading time, didn't make the final.
American Christian Coleman was missing entirely. The reigning world 100-metre champion and the sprinter who at one point was touted as De Grasse's biggest challenger in Tokyo, is serving a doping suspension through May of next year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 1, 2021.