This past Sunday evening, eight men lined up along the starting blocks at Rio’s Olympic stadium. The 100-metre dash, the most high-profile event in sports was about to begin. In lane six was Olympic legend and multiple record holder, Usain Bolt. To his right, in lane seven, stood a young 21 year-old in his first ever Olympic final. That young 21 year-old was Markham, Ontario native, Andre De Grasse.
The men lowered into their starting position, the gun was shot, and off they went. By the end of the race, two things were clear: Usain Bolt is the greatest sprinter the planet has ever seen and Canada’s Andre De Grasse got next.
The final scoreboard read Bolt with the gold with a time of 9.81 seconds, America’s Justin Gatlin clocking in at 9.89 seconds, and in third, with the bronze, De Grasse with a time of 9.91. The first Olympic sprint medal for Canada since 1996 where Donovan Bailey set the world record with a time of 9.84 seconds.
One would think that keeping up with two of the greatest of all-time and winning a bronze medal would warrant some international media acclaim. Not so much for De Grasse. The following day, on an episode of Pardon the Interruption with Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser, when discussing the 100-metre men’s final, there was no mention of De Grasse. Not even a quick shout-out to who finished two one-hundredths of a second behind the Gatlin.
This isn’t a surprise in the slightest when it comes to American media. There are arguments to be made to justify this, like: the storyline doesn’t click well with American audiences, Bolt is an international legend, or Gatlin is a polarizing American figure. Those are all true, but as sports broadcasters and journalists, you owe your audience the whole story.
Another example of this was on the ever-problematic NBC Olympic broadcast of the event. The news on De Grasse wasn’t reported until over four minutes into the post-race show. Then when the analysts finally mentioned the bronze finish, expert Ato Boldon chimed in with, “Andre De Grasse of France.” Which was later corrected by his co-host telling him he was in fact from Canada.
The mistakes could be justified within the context of the organizations and country behind the analysis, but it just shows you how little acclaim and attention a guy like Andre De Grasse receives outside of Canada. However, maybe looking at the bright side here is the best way to go about it. This young man has become a media darling within the confines of the great north.
Much of this love and adoration stems from De Grasse’s outgoing personality and amazing skill between the lines. However, the recent attention is being given to his and Bolt’s unique on-track chemistry before and after races. It seems that Bolt has taken De Grasse under his wing in a way that shows a Jedi and Padawan dynamic. All we can do is hope that the dark side doesn’t tempt De Grasse.
“De Bolt,” as the Internet is so lovingly coining the bromance, has become a main storyline behind tonight’s 200-metre final. This was on full display during last night’s semi-final where Bolt and De Grasse defeated the rest of the heat with ease. With about 20-metres remaining in the race, De Grasse decided to push a little harder to make Bolt speed up at the end. Bolt glanced to his right and smiled before the race had even concluded. De Grasse did as well, as Bolt threw up his classic finger wave as if saying, “No, no, your time is not now. I’m still here young fella.”
This dynamic sets up for an interesting storyline to watch for in 200-metre final this evening. Bolt is the clear cut favourite, and will only lose if something goes incredibly wrong for him, while the rest of the pack isn’t definite in any sense. De Grasse should be considered the favourite to get the silver medal, and possibly even upset Bolt for the gold. We saw how competitive he was during the semi-final. Expect him to go all out and run the race of his life in the finals. The next in line behind De Grasse is probably the United State’s LaShawn Merritt. Merritt had the third highest time out of the semi-final heats, a full one one-hundredth of a second behind De Grasse. The final will more than likely turn out the same way the semi-final heats did: 1-Bolt, 2-De Grasse, 3-Merritt.
Tonight’s conclusive race will be important for many things: Bolt in his (apparent) final hurrah, De Grasse potentially showing out and cementing himself as the next best behind Bolt, whether or not the US will have a member of their squad on the podium, and what tonight’s race means for the future of Olympic men’s sprinting.
It is very much up in the air when looking forward to the state of sprinting in 2020 at the next Olympics in Tokyo. The long-time world number one is apparently retiring after next year’s World Championship so this opens the door for De Grasse to put himself in the top spot. This year’s Olympics have already set him up to be the next one to take the torch from Bolt, regardless of what happens tonight in the 200-metre. De Grasse will be 25 during Tokyo’s Olympics, and even if Bolt does return, that would make him 33 – far past the prime for sprinters. However, stranger things have happened and if Bolt still utterly dominating the competition at this age (29) is any indication, it is entirely possible.
The race tonight sets up the perfect narrative. Bolt can win gold in his last individual Olympic race, and De Grasse can finish right behind him with silver. The apprentice can become the master, the Padawan can become the Jedi and running can be left in (hopefully) equally good hands.
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For more on De Grasse’s rise to the world’s elite, check out this week’s podcast:
Follow author: @kahl23