Can NCAA athletes beat Usain Bolt in a 100m race?August 24, 2015
BEIJING — Andre De Grasse peered at the scoreboard, waiting and wishing, not knowing whether to frown or smile.
“So I just stayed straightfaced,” De Grasse said, laughing.
Several impossibly long moments later, the results popped up: De Grasse had tied for bronze in the 100 metres at the world track and field championships.
What the scoreboard didn’t say: 20 years old. Just his third year of running track. And the first Canadian to win a medal — or even make the final — in track’s marquee event since Bruny Surin raced to silver in 1999.
Either way, third or fourth, it would have been a remarkable performance in a season packed full of them for the sprint sensation from Markham, Ont.
“The future looks bright,” De Grasse said. “Next year I can’t wait to see what kind of training I’m going to do, and I can only get stronger from here. It’s only my third year in track and to be on the podium with these guys, it’s incredible right now.”
His performance capped a three-medal day for Canada, as Brianne Theisen-Eaton won silver in the heptathlon, and Ben Thorne won a surprise bronze in the men’s 20-kilometre racewalk.
But the day belonged to De Grasse, who finished in a dead heat with American Trayvon Bromell, of 9.911, taken to the nearest thousandth of a second via a photo finish.
Jamaica’s world record-holder Usain Bolt won gold in 9.79 — .01 seconds faster than American veteran Justin Gatlin.
De Grasse has laid down one spectacular performance after another this season, sweeping the 100 and 200 at the NCAA championships, then repeating the feat at the Pan American Games in Toronto.
Only two Canadians — Surin and Donovan Bailey — had ever broken 10 seconds before De Grasse came along. He has done that six times this season, including running sub-10 in all three rounds here at the Bird’s Nest Stadium.
Talking to reporters moments later, the young sprint star bounced back and forth excitedly, from one foot the other. Every answer to a question was followed with a laugh.
“Super surreal right now,” he practically bellowed. “It feels like a dream. I actually got the bronze medal, and to end the season I had. . . aw man.”
A tie is a rarity in the sport, and the wait was an emotional roller-coaster for De Grasse and his USC coach Caryl Smith-Gilbert.
“I didn’t know you could actually tie for a bronze medal, so I didn’t know if they were going to give it to Bromell or me,” said De Grasse, who edged Bromell for gold at the NCAA championships. “I’m really happy for him, and I’m proud of myself.”
Smith-Gilbert’s joy at bronze turned to disappointment when she saw his name listed fourth.
“I left because I was so mad. And I came back and someone said ’No, they tied,”’ the coach said.
De Grasse ran 9.96 to finish second behind Bolt in his semifinal, and then, like she’s done all season, Smith-Gilbert gave him a few quiet words of encouragement.
“I knew it would be tough, but I knew he could do it if he really wanted to,” the coach said. “I just told him do what he needed to do, I said ’You’re able to go get a medal, you just have to go do it. If you really want it, it’s there for you.”’
De Grasse will run the 4×100 relay but not the 200, the event in which he broke the Canadian record twice this season.
The only time Bolt has failed to win gold in a sprint at a major championship since the 2008 Games was when he was disqualified for a false start at the 2011 worlds. But the Jamaican has had injury trouble this season, and many had their money on Gatlin.
“A lot of people counted me out,” Bolt said. “So for me to come and win, this is a big deal.”
Gatlin, who won the 100 at the 2004 Olympics before serving a four-year suspension for doping, had been unbeaten in 2015 and had the season-leading time of 9.74 heading into the race.
“Got nipped at the line by great Usain,” Gatlin said.