Though he is the defending bronze medalist in the Olympics’ most glamorous event, Andre De Grasse had de-emphasized the 100-metre sprint this year.
Instead, he’d focused his training on the 200-m – an event in which he has a better on-paper chance for gold.
At least, that was the thinking until Saturday night.
In his first qualifying heat of the 100-m, De Grasse posted a time of 9.91 seconds – best in field.
It’s De Grasse’s top time of the year, and just one one-hundredth of a second off his personal best.
“I didn’t expect to go that fast,” De Grasse said afterward, standing around in bare feet, carrying his shoes. “I wanted to just relax for the first round.”
It was a nervy beginning in the not-quite-empty Olympic Stadium. There are no spectators, but there are a few hundred random people scattered about – journalists, officials, hangers-on with a credential. They make a surprising amount of noise.
That may have been to blame for a couple of false starts in De Grasse’s heat. But once they got under way, he seemed to have no trouble.
Reminiscent of some of his outings at the Rio Games in 2016, he swivelled his head near the finish line to appraise the rest of the field. When he saw he was alone out in front, he slowed up with a couple of strides to go.
De Grasse was a medal hopeful in the 100-m a couple of hours before the heat. Now he has to be a medal favourite.
Assuming nothing goes amiss in the semis on Sunday, he’ll race the final at 8:50 a.m. ET.
“My coach always told me I’m better than my personal best,” De Grasse said. “He says that you’re ready to go fast. If you get that first part of the race, you can win it.”
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