'Go out there and beat him': Andre De Grasse's plan to end talk about Usain Bolt

Andre De Grasse knows the questions are coming — they always do.

The Canadian sprinter is holding court with reporters under a tent on the ninth-floor terrace of a downtown luxury hotel when the first query about Usain Bolt comes his way.

Then another and another.

“I’m getting used to it,” said De Grasse, flashing his million-dollar smile. “He’s one of the best. For me to have people stop talking about it, I have to go out there and beat him.”

The 22-year-old from Markham, Ont., likely has just one more opportunity to dethrone the fastest person on the planet.

Bolt will retire sometime after August’s world track and field championships in London, where the 30-year-old Jamaican is scheduled to race in the men’s 100 metres and 4×100 relay.

“It’s a big moment,” said De Grasse. “He’s the greatest. You always want to go against the best. He’s a legend.”

In town to race Wednesday at the Harry Jerome International Track Classic in suburban Coquitlam, B.C., De Grasse finished second behind Bolt in the 200 metres at last summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The Canadian also picked up two bronze medals at his first Games — in the 100 and 4×100 — races where Bolt earned gold, but he sees a real opportunity this summer.

“Everyone knows he’s slowing down a little bit,” De Grasse said. “He’s getting older, but he’s still the man to beat.

“He’s still running fast times.”

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Andre De Grasse acknowledges his rivalry with Usain Bolt, but insists it’s a friendly one. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

Bolt and De Grasse were one of the big stories in Rio as the young upstart pushed track and field’s superstar a little harder than he expected — with the pair exchanging memorable grins at the finish line following their 200-metre semifinal.

“It’s all friendly,” said De Grasse. “He can say stuff, I say stuff. At the end of the day we’re cool with each other.”

The owner of eight Olympic gold medals and the world record in the 100 metres at 9.58 seconds, Bolt hasn’t raced much this season, but did post a 10.03 in Jamaica earlier this month.

De Grasse, meanwhile, 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 of 9.84 seconds held by both Donovan Bailey and Bruny Surin, but the wind reading was an illegal 4.8 metres per second —above the two-metre threshold.

De Grasse, whose fastest legal time in the 100 was the 9.91 he ran in Rio, also won the 200 metres in Rome on June 8.

He thinks 9.84 will fall sooner rather than later.

“I could have broken it last year,” said De Grasse. “I’m really healthy. I feel like I can do it before the world championships.”

Wednesday’s meet is a tuneup ahead of the Canadian track and field championships that run from July 3 to 9 in Ottawa before the worlds, which begin Aug. 4.

Stuart McMillan, De Grasse’s coach, said there was more pressure in Brazil, but added the 100 metres in London will be special.

“He wants to send out Usain, as much of a legend as he is, on a loss,” said McMillan. “He’s putting a little bit of pressure on himself, especially in the 100.

“He’s really gearing towards the 100 this year.”

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Usain Bolt celebrates his victory in the 200 metres in Rio, as Andre De Grasse settles for second, right. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

De Grasse has been working on his starts this season, but is a bit behind in terms of training after going back to school in the fall to finish his sociology degree from the University of Southern California.

“It’s a weakness in his race,” McMillan said of De Grasse’s first steps out of the blocks. “It’s something that we’ll continue to try to improve over the course of time.

“I’m a big believer in building from an athlete’s strengths.”

Damian Warner of London, Ont., who won Olympic bronze in the decathlon last summer, will also compete Wednesday in both men’s long jump and the 110-metre hurdles.

Other notable Canadians include Calgary sprinter Akeem Haynes — an Olympic bronze medallist in the 4×100 — and 800-metre runner Melissa Bishop of Eganville, Ont.

But the main attraction remains De Grasse, who was swarmed by kids on the track after winning the 100 and 200 at the Harry Jerome last year.

“I love coming out there,” he said. “Any chance I get to come back to Canada and just try to have fun out here and let the crowd see me, let the fans get a chance to meet me, it’s an honour.”

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