Andre De Grasse contended more with fans than competitors — or the clock — on Wednesday night.
De Grasse was mobbed by youngsters after he posted a time of 10.17 seconds to win the 100-metre race at the Harry Jerome Track Classic. Running at dusk on a sunny evening under a mostly clear sky, De Grasse was engulfed by the throng moments after he spread his arms in triumph while crossing the finish line.
With security lacking, it looked at times like things might get out of hand as the departing sellout crowd migrated towards the track with De Grasse in the centre. But De Grasse calmly, and literally, took the pushing and shoving in stride.
“Last year, I was a bit overwhelmed,” he said of his popularity. “But this year, it’s just amazing, incredible. I’m a bit speechless about how (the mob scene) happened. I admire these kids. They’re working hard, trying to get a spot right now, trying to get a sport. So it’s just an incredible feeling.”
The 22-year-old Markham, Ont., native, who won three medals at last summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, prevailed in a field of seven Canadians and one American.
The winning time did not come close to challenging the Canadian record of 9.84 seconds shared by Donovan Bailey and Bruny Surin. But De Grasse was still smiling afterwards while the race’s other participants, virtually ignored, grinned as they watched the scene.
“I’m happy with it,” said De Grasse of his performance. “The main point about coming out here was just to meet my fans, (take) pictures, (sign) autographs, just getting a chance for the fans to see me in Canada. So I’m not worried about the time. It was more about the experience of coming here.”
James Linde of Coquitlam, B.C., who does not compete internationally, finished second in 10.42 seconds while Calgary sprinter Akeem Haynes — a 2016 Olympic bronze medallist in the 4×100 — placed third in 10.47.
De Grasse used the race as preparation for the Canadian track and field championships, starting July 3, in Ottawa and the world championships in London in early August.
His time was slower than defending Olympic and world champion Usain Bolt’s 10.06-second clocking at the Golden Spike meet in the Czech Republic earlier Wednesday. Bolt, who won his race, cited back pain for the unusually slow time and planned to get checked by his doctor in Germany.
De Grasse finished second behind Bolt in the 200 metres in Rio and also earned bronze medals in the 100 and 4×100 as Bolt brought Jamaica gold in both races. The Canadian is trying to bring himself up to speed with Bolt this season before the 30-year-old retires at the end of the campaign.
But with the world championship 100-metre event on the distant horizon, De Grasse refused to put much stock in his friendly rival’s poor showing.
“It’s six weeks away,” said De Grasse. “I’m sure he’s going to be ready. So I’m not worried about what he’s running right now.”
De Grasse ran a wind-aided 9.69 seconds to capture the 100 at an event in Stockholm on June 18, three days after winning at the same distance in Oslo. The 9.69 would have smashed the Canadian record, but the wind reading was an illegal 4.8 metres per second — above the two-metre threshold.
Although the Canadian remains elusive, De Grasse indicated that he is content with preparations for the nationals and worlds.
“I’m just enjoying the moment every single time,” said De Grasse.
Meanwhile, Melissa Bishop of Eganville, Ont., a two-time Olympian and 2015 world championship silver medallist, easily placed first in her 800-metre specialty with a time of 2:00.11. And, two-time Olympian Damian Warner of London, Ont., won the men’s long jump with a 7.48-metre leap. It was well off his personal best of 8.04 metres.
Warner, who won a decathlon Olympic bronze medal, also took first in the 110-metre hurdles despite hitting a couple of the barriers.
“All in all, today was an OK day, but certainly (there’s) lots of room to improve,” said Warner.