TOKYO – This is life after Usain Bolt’s giant flash shadow. There was no sprinter who could dominate the whole world, no divine miracle. There was no absolute confidence, no flash of playful joy. Instead, there were eight men who could do it that day, five of whom were running in their first Olympics, and one of them was Andre De Grasse. He was running down lane 9.
De Grasse was running from lane 9 because the semi-finals were full of shakes, and that wasn’t ideal, not at all. De Grasse won bronze at Lane 9 in his first world championship in 2015, but part of the value of being in the middle is that extra charge of excitement or adrenaline you feel from being in the fight. De Grasse steps forward. That’s the reputation, that’s the legend, that’s the story.
Anyway it happened. Racing down the outside lane, as the Nigerian in lane 8 fell and left De Grasse alone, after a slow start, in an empty stadium, after years plagued with injuries, on a sultry night at the Zombie Olympics. : none of that did is easy. But De Grasse’s closing speed gave him the bronze at 9.90, a personal best by a hundredth of a second over his time in the playoffs. That closing speed will help in the 200s, you would think, but this was a medal. And it wasn’t guaranteed.
“I mean, getting back on the podium, it’s a great feeling,” said De Grasse, an hour after the race. “Especially last year we didn’t know if this was going to happen.”
But somehow, it didn’t necessarily feel like the flagship event. In the men’s high jump, Italian Gianmarco Tamberi and Qatari Mutaz Barshim kept jumping higher and higher until they agreed to split the gold medal. Apparently they are great friends, and they hugged, and Tamberi especially broke away, crying and laughing and rolling down the track, convulsing with excitement.
“I look at him, he looks at me and we know it,” Barshim said. “We just look at each other and know, that’s it, it’s done. There is no need. “
Meanwhile, in the women’s triple jump, Venezuelan Yulimar Rojas jumped to a world record of 15.67 meters, and her joy was overwhelming, and her competitors hugged her too, as if they were sisters. And at the women’s shot put victory ceremony, Raven Saunders of the United States, an openly gay lock of hair of two shades of honesty, justice and personality, placed her hands in an X above her head to demonstrate “the intersection of where all the downtrodden people meet “.
And then there was the 100, which is supposed to be the big show, and it’s not that it hasn’t stopped being interesting at all. It was a bit strange. The boy De Grasse lost to was Marcell Jacobs, a former El Paso-born Italian long jumper who had never run less than 10 seconds before this year, and he won this race with 9.80, ahead of American Fred Kerley with 9.94. . Tamberi also hugged him after the race. Was Jacobs real? That was the perennial question in athletics before the world anti-doping apparatus was put in a shoebox for most of 2020.
It’s a great story, if it is. Bolt’s hangover was real, even if Bolt’s last individual 100 gold in Rio was a 9.81, with a body beginning to refuse to listen to him; even if Jacobs, who was transferred to Italy by his Italian mother as a baby, got a 9.80.
“Yes, I don’t know,” De Grasse said. “I mean, I felt like my main competition would be the Americans. He knew the Americans were going to bring him. So that really blew me away and surprised me. So really, congrats to him. He did his thing, it came out of nowhere. So I’m really proud of him and it really shows that our sport is going in a good direction, because you never know who will win. Any of us can win on any night. Therefore, I am looking forward to a chance to compete with him. I think it was my first time competing with him, so it was definitely not a game plan for him. “
It’s unclear how De Grasse could have planned the game for anyone, other than getting off to a better start. Ah good. Many sports have suffered from a lack of fans here, even though, with the COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in Japan, no fan was the responsible decision. Imagine Japanese fans at the revered Budokan, cool kids skateboarding, thick-necked exhilaration at weightlifting. Poor me.
But at 100 it was deeply felt, because instead of the electrical silence of tens of thousands and the crackling air, there was just the silence of a nearly empty stadium, and some screaming from officials as the men darted down the track.
“Yes, it was different,” De Grasse said. “I mean, it was to be honest, it was very difficult for me because I really like him in the crowd. And it gets me going. So I really try to cheer myself up in any way that I can, like listening to music, trying to talk to myself, saying to myself ‘Come on, come on’.
“But it was very difficult for me, because normally I’m used to hearing that, the noise of the crowd. I thought there would be a bit of crowd noise, the light show was pretty good. But I thought there would be something more like fake crowd noise or something. But it was definitely very difficult for me. So I’m looking forward to next year at the Oregon World Championships, when there will be fans again. ”
A lot has changed since De Grasse and Bolt ran side by side in Rio, a grinning, dizzying carnival show, and that’s sports and the world. Since 2016, De Grasse had two children, had two seasons marked by hamstring injuries, finally rested during the pandemic, switched training groups to a Florida-based group led by Puma’s Rana Reider, and reached the final of the 100 meters on Lane. 9, tied for the second-slowest time in the semifinals, in what was a lonely silence for the sprint in a changing world.
And he still held onto the bottom step of the podium, even as the names, faces and racing dynamics changed. On a hectic, joyous and unpredictable night on the track, at a very different Olympics, the only thing you could count on was Andre De Grasse.
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