Andre De Grasse wins the 200m title at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (© Getty Images)
Andre De Grasse is a nearly man no more. Finally, he can call himself Olympic champion.
The Canadian sprinter with a collection of silver and bronze medals in major championships struck gold at last, winning the men’s 200m on Wednesday (4) in another super-fast final at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
De Grasse outsprinted USA rivals Noah Lyles and Kenny Bednarek over the final 50 meters to claim victory in a national record 19.62, becoming the first man not named Usain Bolt to win the Olympic 200m since 2004.
It was De Grasse’s fifth career Olympic medal, and the one that counts the most. The one that always eluded him during Bolt’s reign at the top.
"I finally did it,” the 26-year-old said. “I always felt like I came up short, winning bronze and silver, so it is good to have this gold medal. No one can take that away from me. I lived for this moment.”
Bednarek earned the silver in a personal best 19.68, while pre-race favourite Lyles settled for bronze in 19.74. The USA's 17-year-old Erriyon Knighton finished fourth in 19.93 and Liberia’s Joseph Fahnbulleh also went under 20 seconds to finish fifth in 19.98.
The victory ended De Grasse’s long wait for an elusive gold, and came three days after he won bronze in the men’s 100m.
"I went back after the 100m and I was a little bit disappointed in myself,” he said. “I could have done better. I said: 'I’ve got to go and get this 200.”
Go and get it, he did, running a smart and controlled race from lane 6. Lyles, in lane 2, and Bednarek, in lane 7, were slightly ahead going around the turn into the straight. All three men were even at one point before De Grasse made his move, pulling ahead over the final 50m sprint to the line.
“My coach told me I've got to go hard on the bend, I've got to stay with Kenny on the turn, he has a magnificent turn,” De Grasse said. “And once you get off that turn, just relax and flow, that's what you're good at. Just try to stay loose, stay relaxed, keep pumping. Keep pumping my arms and finish strong.”
After crossing the line, De Grasse lay on his back on the track for a long time. He draped himself in the Canadian flag and kissed his shoes.
The wait was over. The third Canadian to win the Olympic 100m, and first since Percy Williams in 1928, De Grasse could relax and take it all in.
"I shocked the world and that is what I came to do,” he said. “Everyone was saying that the Americans were going to win, but this was my moment and I knew I had it in me.”
For most of his career, De Grasse has run in the shadow of Bolt, the Jamaican great who swept the 100m and 200m at three Olympics from 2008-2016. With Bolt in retirement since 2017, the way was clear for sprinters like De Grasse to step up and reach the top of the podium.
Until Wednesday night, De Grasse’s Olympic medal collection looked like this: 100m bronze in Tokyo, 200m silver in Rio, 100m bronze in Rio, 4x100m relay bronze in Rio. Hs World Championships resume was similar: 200m silver and 100m bronze in 2019, 100m bronze and 4x100m relay bronze in 2015.
Now, he can add 200m gold in Tokyo 2020 to the list.
“This is special,” De Grasse said. “Every time I got bronze and silver, but I was young back then and running against the GOAT.”
Bolt, the Greatest of All Time, can deny him no longer.
The 22-year-old Bednarek, meanwhile, took pride in winning the silver medal in his first Olympics.
“All my hard work has paid off,” he said. “I was leading the race and was hoping to come out with the gold but first time being an Olympian, first time running the 200m, and first time making a silver medal, I’m happy with my performance.”
Third place was not what Lyles, the 24-year-old world champion, had in mind. He came in as the top contender after winning the US Olympic trials in a world leading 19.74.
Since Bolt’s retirement, Lyles had been seen as the man to beat in the 200m, and he had been undefeated in finals over the distance this year until Wednesday night.
Asked how it feels to win a bronze medal, Lyles said: “Boring. Because I didn’t win. Everybody wants to win when they come, right? It’s not what I wanted but it was a great achievement. It’s great to have but I want more.”
Fourth place marked an exceptional result for Knighton, the teenager who made a huge breakthrough this year, setting a world U18 best of 20.04 in the heats of the US Trials before running a world U20 record 19.84 in the final.
Despite his impressive debut on the world stage in Tokyo, Knight was distraught at not making the podium.
“I just never want to feel this feeling ever again, what I’m feeling right now,” he said. “So I just have to come back again. The goal from the start was to make the podium. I’m just taking it all in, that’s all you can do.”
Give it time.
De Grasse may be the man of the moment in the 200m. Knighton just might be the man of the future.
Steve Wilson for World Athletics
|MEN'S 200m MEDALLISTS
|Andre De Grasse 🇨🇦 CAN
|Kenny Bednarek 🇺🇸 USA
|Noah Lyles 🇺🇸 USA