Italy’s Lamont Marcell Jacobs was the surprising gold medalist, sprinting to the finish line in 9.80 seconds. American Fred Kerley took silver in 9.84 seconds, with De Grasse just behind in 9.89. Despite Tokyo’s continuing heat, all three medalists clocked personal bests.
“To get back on the podium, it’s a great feeling, especially, since we didn’t know last year if this was even going to happen,” De Grasse said of the postponed Olympics. “Of course the past couple of years, just battling injuries. … I ran a personal best, so I can’t complain.”
It was punishingly hot and humid inside Olympic Stadium, the same venue used at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and refurbished for athletics and the opening and closing ceremonies at these Games. The sky drew dark, but the lights were vivid inside the mammoth 68,000-seat venue.
It had the busiest media presence of any event at these Games – including multiple heaving photographer’s sections and press tribunes bursting with writers wiping away sweat on a humid 30 C evening. The underbelly of the stadium was as busy as any Olympics in non-pandemic times. Reporters jammed into interview zones speaking in dozens of languages, and media rooms were bustling.
The stadium’s empty seats – all different colours – gave the illusion of spectators at a quick glance, but they sat mostly empty. It seemed an odd contrast to the streets just outside the stadium, which were very active with the Japanese public, going about their business.
The only cheering people in attendance were the few small pockets of track and field athletes, dressed in vibrant team colours and hollering for their teammates. Still the place had a definite din of importance.
De Grasse ran a 9.98 in his semi-final earlier Sunday – second behind Kerley and good enough to book his spot in the final. China’s Su Bingtian and Ronnie Baker of the United States each ran 9.83 in another semi-final, suggesting a fast final was afoot. For the final, the Canadian drew Lane 9 – on the outside – which he didn’t love.
“I’m like, okay, I can’t think about that,” he said.
De Grasse spent the next couple of hours chatting with his coach, hydrating, having a light bite to eat.
A couple of hours later, they were back on the track, a slight breeze now cutting through. With the men in their lanes, the stadium lights came down and an elaborate light show began.
Despite all the pageantry, the 26-year-old De Grasse from Markham, Ont., still felt the lack of atmosphere that’s generated from live fans in a big stadium. His family had been in Rio. Seconds after racing at those 2016 Olympics, he was reaching up to touch his mother’s hand in the stands. This was so different.
“To be honest, it was really tough for me because I really thrive off the crowd. ... It gets me going,” De Grasse said. “So, I really try to just pump myself up any way I can, like, listen to music, try to talk to myself, tell myself, ‘Come on, let’s go.’ ... Usually I’m used to hearing that crowd noise.”
He said false starts by other competitors in the semis and the final had him unsettled. Getting disqualified from the 100-m final would be devastating.
“When you have so many false starts you’re a little bit tentative,” De Grasse said. “You get a little nervous.”
He began the race slowly – which is common for the 5-foot-9 Canadian. Early on, he was last until his legs picked up speed, that one arm pumping a little straighter than the other, as is his signature style.
“I just really have to continue to keep focusing on my start,” De Grasse said. “Because that’s really what’s going to help me become a gold medalist one day.”
When he did a lap of the stadium and came to meet media, he was asked if he knows much about the Italian gold medalist. They had just met for the first time.
“I don’t know. I mean, I felt like my main competition would be the Americans,” the Canadian confessed. “He did his thing, he came out of the blue.”
It proves the parity in men’s sprinting.
He said he looks forward now to Tuesday’s heats and semis of the 200-metre race, which he feels is his better event.
“I have a day off, so try to sleep more tomorrow and do a little bit of moving around, make sure I don’t get too sore, so I can you know be fresh again for the 200-metre,” he said. “Because the 200 is two races in one night. So, I have to try to get myself mentally prepared for that.”
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