2016 Olympics: Andre De Grasse set to succeed Usain Bolt as track's next big star
RIO DE JANEIRO -- With a flash, Usain Bolt came and conquered the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Three more golds in three races for the third straight summer games, completing an unprecedented triple-triple on track-and-field’s biggest stage.
But following his gold medal-winning run with Jamaica’s 4x100-meter relay on Friday, Bolt declared it as his final act as an Olympian.
If the past several days have been any indication, Bolt’s successor may very well be Canada's and former USC sprint sensation Andre De Grasse. Competing in the same three events as Bolt -- the 100 meter, 200 meter and 4x100-meter relay -- De Grasse was able to bring home a silver and two bronze medals from Rio. The 21-year-old appears to be entering his prime just as Bolt is making his curtain call.
“Of course, I don’t think there’s going to be another Usain Bolt,” De Grasse said. “ But I could say for now on, there will be an Andre De Grasse. I definitely got to just keep continue working hard. I’m still pretty far away from what he has accomplished in his career. Getting started, it’s a great feeling to have three Olympic medals. For my next Olympics, I can do something that he’s done before -- win triple golds.”
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) August 18, 2016
De Grasse and Bolt combined to provide one of the most memorable moments of the Games on Wednesday night in the semifinals of the 200 meter. While Bolt appeared to be cruising to an easy victory down the home stretch, De Grasse turned up the heat and nearly clipped him at the end. As the two competitors crossed the finish line, they shared a laugh and a smile.
While De Grasse ran a 19.80 to Bolt’s 19.78 in the semis, the young Canadian could only muster a 20.02 to Bolt’s 19.78 in the final. Though he still earned the silver and an iconic snapshot in time, De Grasse said he might have taken the sprint back from the semis to conserve his energy.
“It’s a 50-50,” De Grasse said. “I know a lot of people have been talking about the semifinals. It was to fun doing that, but also I thought I could have saved a little bit of energy and tried to challenge him in the finals. Because I probably could have gone a lot faster in the finals. It’s a learning experience for me. For next time, I know what exactly I need to do to qualify for the next round and run my fastest in the finals.”
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Track has been a saving grace for De Grasse, who admittedly was heading down the wrong path as a teenager in suburban Toronto. But after showing some prodigious talent as a senior in high school, De Grasse turned his attention to sprinting.
Following a successful two-year run at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, De Grasse accepted a scholarship to compete with USC’s storied track and field program. Following one season with the Trojans, De Grasse signed a professional contract in December 2015 with Puma, reportedly worth upwards of $11 million.
After celebrating his Olympic success with his family and friends in Toronto, De Grasse said he plans to return to USC this fall for his final college semester. Though he’s ineligible for NCAA competition as a pro, De Grasse still has a good relationship with Trojans head coach Caryl Smith Gilbert, who was a major reason why he picked USC.
A photo posted by Andre De Grasse (@de6rasse) on
“I’m just going to go back and finish my degree,” De Grasse said. “I’m working on a social science degree, sociology degree. So I plan to use that to encourage the youths and work with the kids, and that’s my goal, to finish that this year in December.”
De Grasse might not step on the track for any more races but he’s a solid candidate to hoist his country’s maple leaf flag for the closing ceremonies on Sunday. He’s a world famous athlete now, but De Grasse insists he’s going to stay humble.
“I’ve been getting that from people, that this is going to be changing my life,” De Grasse said. “But it hasn’t really sunk into my head yet because I’m still here. I don’t even know what to say to that. But if it does change, I’m still going to be the same person I am before it happened. Nothing’s going to change with me.”