The Usain Bolt-Andre De Grasse Show Delivers Olympic Gold and Silver in Men’s 200 Metres
RIO DE JANEIRO — This time, the greatest sprinter of all time didn’t give his Canadian understudy the opportunity to celebrate together, to smile at each other as they crossed the finish line in close proximity.
One final time in an individual race at the Olympic Games, Jamaican Usain Bolt had no interest in sharing the biggest stage with anyone as he romped his way to the gold medal in the men’s 200 metres on Thursday at the Olympic Stadium.
For De Grasse, the sprinting upstart of these Rio Games, there was no shame in finishing second to the greatest of all time, earning a silver medal, his second medal of the 2016 Rio Games.
In fact, with his electric final 25 metres, the Markham, Ont., native became the first Canadian since Percy Williams in 1928 to win a medal in both the 100 and 200 sprints at the same Olympics.
De Grasse’s sensational effort continued a stunning breakthrough for the 21-year-old, who took bronze in the 100 metres last weekend and vowed he could do even better in the 200, his first love and an event he believes is his best.
De Grasse’s medal was the second of the night for Canada sat the track — joining decathlete Damian Warner who took bronze — and the fifth of these Games for the improving Athletics Canada program. The last time the Canadian track team collected as much hardware was at the boycotted 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles — and there are still three days to go.
As has been the case with the Bolt-De Grasse showdowns this week, the 200 final had its entertaining moments, but this time noticeably was without the jocularity between the two.
Bolt, especially, was all business from the time he hit the track until the time he crossed the wire in 19.78 seconds on a rainy night in Rio, well ahead of the Canadian champion at 20.02. This time, instead of looking and laughing at De Grasse, Bolt gazed to the stands at the finish line, before celebrating his eighth sprinting gold medal as an Olympian. He did it alone with the fans, ignoring De Grasse as the two passed during their celebratory victory laps.
Self-aware of the accomplishment and never shy about self-promotion, moments after the race Bolt proclaimed himself as the best to ever put on racing spikes to sprint. And who could argue?
“I don’t need to prove anything else,” Bolt said to echoes of his name being chanted in the stadium. “What else can I do to prove to the world I am the greatest?
“I am trying to be one of the greatest. Be among Ali and Pele. I hope after these Games I will be in that bracket.”
On Friday, the Lightning Bolt will go for his ninth gold — and a celebrated sprint triple-triple — when he runs in the 4×100 metre relay.
Bolt has been gracious in his praise of De Grasse this week and the pair got to know each other in Jamaica earlier this year on a promotional tour for their mutual sponsor, Puma.
“He’s a young kid, he’s great,” Bolt said of De Grasse.
But when asked if he is a possible replacement to the Jamaican star, Bolt was polite if not effusive. He’s right of course, because there may never be another sprinter as fast, as entertaining and as accomplished as Usain Bolt.
“It will be hard to be exactly like me but you just have to work hard,” the Jamaican legend said earlier this week. “It’s all about determination and what you want. For me, I worked for it. And I’m always ready for the challenge.”
Bolt’s medal total trails only Paavo Nurmi of Finland and Carl Lewis of the U.S. among track Olympians. Both have nine. At age 29 — he’ll turn 30 on Sunday — Bolt became the oldest winner of the men’s 200 metres.
De Grasse’s accomplishments and rapid rise in his sport are massive. From NCAA star a year and a half ago to dual Olympic medallist this week, he has lived up to his promise and then some. He’s also shown that he’s about more than raw speed, as well. De Grasse knows how to race.
In the final strides of Thursday’s 200, raced over a surface glistening from a light rain moments before the start, he closed strong enough to open some light between the rest of the field. Christophe LeMaitre of France lunged for the bronze, edging Great Britain’s Adam Gemili in a photo finish.
All week, De Grasse has alternated from enjoying the playfulness of Bolt, hoping he could gain from the experience in the future, to actually believing he might have a shot at beating the man.
“Racing the fastest man in the world, ever, and Justin Gatlin, these guys are spectacular,” De Grasse said after his 100-metre bronze. “I’m speechless.”
Speechless, perhaps, but in awe he wasn’t. De Grasse is nowhere near the physical specimen of the champion, nor is he as fast. But twice in less than a week, he has proved that there is no one else in the world as close to Bolt as the young Canadian.
And only at the end of his night, did Bolt open the door every so slightly for De Grasse and the rest of the sprinting world, suggesting his days of dominance are nearing an end.
“I ran hard around the turn,” Bolt said. “On the straight, my body didn’t respond. I’m getting old.”
Older, perhaps. But no less brilliant.