Sunday, 19 November 2017 18:40

Sprinter De Grasse removing Usain Bolt as the fastest man in world

REPLACING a legend is a tough gig. Just ask Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse who is being talked up as the next Usain Bolt.

Replacing a legend is a tough gig and that’s the scenario facing Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse.

The 23-year-old is track and field’s next big thing but that title comes with some serious extra baggage because of the person whose footsteps he’s following.

Usain Bolt is the fastest man in history, his extraordinary achievements on the Olympic stage transcended athletics and he became a global sports legend in the mould of Ali, Pele and Bradman.

In August he bid farewell, albeit in slightly disappointing circumstances at the London world championships.

De Grasse wasn’t there with an ill-timed hamstring injury forcing him out of the event.

The previous year at the Rio Olympics he’d announced himself on the world stage, winning three medals including a silver behind Bolt in the 200m.

He certainly impressed the Jamaican superstar who anointed De Grasse as his successor to the sprint thrones.

The first step towards this goal starts next April at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

“It would definitely be a great feeling to accomplish that,” De Grasse says from his hometown of Toronto.

“I was running fast last season, in 2017, and I’m looking forward to what I can do when I’m healthy and try to accomplish that, to be the fastest man in the world.

“The Commonwealth Games is an important part of that and I’m looking forward to getting down there.”

Missing out on racing Bolt one final time in London was frustrating for De Grasse who had been at the peak of his powers in the lead-up, clocking a wind-assisted 9.69 sec in Stockholm in June.

“I was devastated not to compete in London,” he says. “It wasn’t a significant (hamstring) strain or anything, it was just the timing.

“I hurt it three days prior to the 100m heats and there just wasn’t enough time to get back and run.

“He (Bolt) is a great guy, a great competitor and any time you get to race against the best you want to try and run your best.”

While the long-term goal is to take down Bolt’s world record mark of 9.58 sec, De Grasse first wants to break his own national record.

The Canadian 100m record of 9.84 sec is shared by 1996 Olympic champion Donovan Bailey and world championships silver medallist Bruny Surin.

De Grasse’s 100m personal best is currently 9.91 sec which he set at Rio where he also claimed the Canadian 200m record of 19.80 sec.

“When I ran that 9.69 it didn’t feel like I ran that fast,” he explains.

“It was definitely one of those things where you don’t actually feel that good yet you run that fast.

“You know then that when you’re pumping on all cylinders, you’re geared up and ready to peak, ready to run fast then when the time comes you know you can go out there and do that.

“No-one has got close to that (9.58sec) and it’s definitely going to be a tough one but I’m taking one step at a time.

“First of all I want to break the Canadian record and then work my way down. I’m young and I still have a lot of time to achieve that.”

He admits his sudden rise to fame and fortune — he signed an $11.25 million deal with Puma — was initially hard to comprehend given he’d only just come out of college when he became an international star.

“At first there was a little bit of pressure and I didn’t really know how to handle it in the beginning,” De Grasse said.

“It was pretty overwhelming I guess you could say but over time I tried to balance it out, worry about one thing at a time and focus on the main thing which is training and my commitment to the track.”

While he’s never been to Australia before, he does have some inside knowledge with Sydney sprinter Ella Nelson part of De Grasse’s training group in Phoenix, Arizona.

He plans to arrive on the Gold Coast three weeks out from the Games to acclimatise so every box is ticked in his quest for his first major championships gold medal.

While he’s yet to decide whether he’ll do the sprint double or focus on either the 100m or 200m, De Grasse is determined to get redemption after a disappointing Commonwealth Games debut in Glasgow in 2014.

“The last Commonwealth Games I didn’t really do well,” he recalls. “So for me it’s a great opportunity to come back to my second Commonwealth Games and try to redeem myself.

“At Glasgow I didn’t make it out of the semi-finals. While the whole thing was a great experience, I didn’t do well on the track and I’m determined to change that on the Gold Coast.