De Grasse aims to carry over fast start to season in latest 100-metre race

Andre De Grasse would be the first to say an explosive start in the 100 metres hasn’t been his greatest strength in a successful sprint career, and hours spent poring over race footage during the pandemic showed as much.

But the Canadian was encouraged by his first 30 metres in a 9.99-second performance and second-place finish behind rival Justin Gatlin (9.98) in a potential Tokyo Olympic final preview at the Tom Jones Memorial Invitational on April 17 in Gainesville, Fla.

“I usually don’t open the season that fast. That’s a sign things are going well in training,” De Grasse told CBC Sports last weekend from nearby Jacksonville, where he lives. “I knew I was going against good competition and guys that get out of the blocks fast.

“That first 30, 40 metres I felt confident. When I got upright, I knew I had to work on my technique, stay upright, relaxed, pump the arms and lift my knees. I’m improving and feel like I’m ready for the season.”

The 26-year-old has continued to work on his speed endurance and technique with coach Rana Reider ahead of his next race on Friday at 4 p.m. ET at the University of North Florida.

“I look at my [race] footage and I’m always a foot or two behind in the beginning of the race. If I can close the gap a little, it will help me work toward the finish to my race so I can be in contention to win.

“It’s about repetitions. That’s what’s going to get me to the [medal] podium.”

Coleman suspended through Olympics

De Grasse ran an “incredible” 100 final at the 2019 world championships in Doha, Qatar, according to 1996 Olympic 100 champion-turned CBC Sports analyst Donovan Bailey.

De Grasse ran a personal best 9.90 for a bronze medal, finishing behind Christian Coleman (9.76 PB) and fellow American Gatlin (9.89) in his fastest race since winning bronze in 9.91 at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where the 26-year-old became the first Canadian athlete to win Olympic medals in the 100, 200 (silver) and 4×100 relay (bronze).

WATCH | De Grasse earns bronze medal in 2019 world 100m final:

Christian Coleman of the United States wins 100m with personal best 9.76 seconds, Andre De Grasse finishes 3rd while fellow Canadian Aaron Brown places 8th. 8:37

“Andre is probably going to be [trailing] at the 30-metre mark [in his races],” Bailey said after the world 100 final, “but his strengths are maintaining his acceleration and relaxing at the end of the race, and that’s what he did today.”

World 200 champion Noah Lyles, who placed fourth on that April day in Gainesville, is also expected to be a threat to De Grasse on the track this season but not Coleman — the world’s fastest man in 2017, 2018 and 2019 — who is suspended through October for missing three drug tests in 2019.

De Grasse believed he was ready to compete at an Olympic level shortly before the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports in March 2020 and forced the postponement of the Games to 2021. Suddenly, he was left without weight room access and a track on which to train, relying on Reider to “find a park or grass fields” to help maintain fitness.

However, a year to spend more time with family and friends, “live a normal life” and prepare mentally and physically for 2021 has been helpful.

WATCH | De Grasse wants to set Canadian record, personal-best time in Tokyo:

CBC Sports’ Scott Russell spoke to Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse about the upcoming Olympics and his three events, the 100m, 200m and the 4x100m relay. 4:42

De Grasse’s race schedule remained light last summer with two 100s in July and a 200 in July and August, all in Florida.

“I couldn’t spend all the time working on my start [in the 100 so] I’m still figuring it out,” he said. “It takes a lot of focus and execution. I’m still young in the sport and have a ways to go before I can say I’ve mastered it and feel good about it.”

Standout comeback season

After Friday’s competition, De Grasse will return to his native Markham, Ont., for personal business while he and partner Nia Ali — the reigning world 100 hurdles champion from the U.S. — await the birth of their second child.

From there, the 2016 triple Olympic medallist begins preparation for this summer’s Games in earnest at Diamond League meets. De Grasse reached the podium in six of eight races in the 100 on the professional circuit during a standout 2019 comeback season after being sidelined much of 2017 and 2018 with hamstring injuries.

Looking ahead to Tokyo, he has followed the recent news about fans outside of Japan being barred from attending events along with a state of emergency being declared for a third time, aimed at stemming surging cases of the coronavirus three months from the scheduled start to the Games.

Earlier this week, Athletics Canada CEO David Bedford told CBC Sports it’s in the “national interest” of the country to have all athletes and support staff fully vaccinated before the Olympics.

“I just want to go there with an open mind,” De Grasse said. “As athletes, we don’t want to put negativity in our mind. I got a bit of a taste of it last year competing [in front of] no fans. Hopefully they’ll have a light show, music or anything to get us pumped up.

“It’s still going to be a dream [realized] for people who haven’t been to the Olympics, and I get an opportunity to go for a second time. Every Olympic experience is different, and I’ve never been to Tokyo. I’m looking forward to being there and I want to win a gold medal.”

De Grasse has launched his Run with Me initiative to get Canadian children active in a pandemic while July 6 marks the release of his motivational picture book for kids, Race With Me!

WATCH | How much will COVID-19 affect the Olympics?:

Morgan Campbell, Meghan McPeak and Dave Zirin discuss what precautions should be taken for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to stay on track. 6:35

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