The last time most Canadians saw Andre De Grasse on the track, he was putting the finishing touches on a second consecutive three-medal performance at the Olympics.
It began in Tokyo with a personal-best 9.89 seconds for bronze in the 100 metres as De Grasse matched his Summer Games effort from five years earlier in Rio and became the first Canadian to win multiple Olympic medals in the event.
It ended with the Markham, Ont., sprinter earning bronze in the 100 relay with Aaron Brown, Brendon Rodney and Jerome Blake to become Canada’s most decorated male Olympian. They recently had the medal upgraded to silver after Great Britain, which finished 1-100th of a second behind Italy, was disqualified following CJ Ujah’s doping violation.
In between, De Grasse won the first gold medal of his Olympic career and first by a Canadian in the 200 since 1928, setting a national record time of 19.62. Blake was blown away at how De Grasse could run so fast after only four 200s earlier in 2021.
“He’s like [retired sprinter] Usain Bolt or [NBA star] LeBron [James]. They never worry about the regular season,” Blake, who will oppose world No. 2-ranked De Grasse and Brown in the 200 at Friday’s Diamond League season opener in Doha, Qatar, said recently between training sessions in Florida. “They’re [all] championship players and that’s when they come alive.
“That’s where you want to thrive and perform at your best, in a championship setting. It’s [about] how you perform when it matters most.”
Also in Friday’s field is 2020 Olympic bronze medallist and reigning world champion Noah Lyles and fellow American Fred Kerley, who ran 19.80 on April 16 at the USATF Golden Games, second only this season to teammate Erriyon Knighton (19.49).
While some of his teammates and competitors raced indoors earlier this year, including the world championships in March, De Grasse stayed close to his Jacksonville, Fla., home, running a 100, 200 and three relays.
“To see your countryman do so well forces you to improve your game and learn from him. I want the three fastest races of my life to be at [outdoor world championships in July],” said Blake, who set PBs in the 100 (10-flat) and 200 (20.04) earlier this spring. “It’s going to be a fun time when we get to race each other this year.”
Stacked men’s 100m at Pre Classic
De Grasse will continue his Diamond League season May 21 in Birmingham, England, where he will run the 100 in preparation for his title defence at the May 28 Prefontaine Classic at Eugene, Ore., site of this summer’s worlds. It’ll be a Tokyo rematch against reigning Olympic champion Marcell Jacobs and silver medallist Kerley, who clocked 9.92 last weekend at a Continental Tour meet in Nairobi.
WATCH | De Grasse runs wind-aided 9.74 seconds at 2021 Pre Classic:
The loaded field will also feature 2020 Olympic finalist Ronnie Baker and his American teammates Christian Coleman, Kenny Bednarek and Lyles. Coleman, the former world No. 1, won the men’s indoor 60 at the Millrose Games on Jan. 29 after serving an 18-month suspension for breaching anti-doping whereabouts rules.
Athletes will compete for points at nine other stops crossing four continents in a bid to reach the Sept. 7-8 Diamond League Final in Zurich, where they have the chance to be crowned champion and earn $30,000 US in prize money.
Six Diamond League champions will be determined at a street event, with 26 other disciplines being held the following day at Letzigrund Stadium in Switzerland.
Polish meet added to schedule
The Kamila Skolimowska Memorial meeting in Chorzow, Poland on Aug. 6 is the new stop on the circuit, replacing events in Shanghai and Shenzhn, which were cancelled recently due to strict travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in China.
Two meets in China were also cancelled last year for similar reasons.
Canada’s Trophy drought
As dominant as Andre De Grasse has been at the Olympics and other major championships, the sprinter is still seeking his first Diamond League Trophy.
On Sept. 16, 2011, six-foot-four, 310-pound shot putter Dylan Armstrong of Kamloops, B.C., won $40,000 US and a four-carat diamond-encrusted trophy in Brussels, the most recent Canadian to win a Diamond League title.
The previous year, one-time world No. 1 hurdler Priscilla Lopes-Schliep of Whitby, Ont., became Canada’s inaugural Diamond League champion when the 2008 Olympic bronze medallist stopped the clock in 12.54 seconds in the women’s 100-metre event at the Memorial Van Damme competition in Belgium the day after her 28th birthday.
Last September, De Grasse placed second in the 100 and 200 at the Diamond League Final in Zurich. In 2019, he posted a season-best 19.87 seconds in the 200 to earn bronze at the Diamond League Final. Teammate Aaron Brown was fourth, as he was in 2017, 2018 and 2021.
WATCH | De Grasse nearly upends Bednarek in 200m Diamond League Final:
DeBues-Stafford ‘dialed in’ in B.C.
Middle-distance runner Gabriela DeBues-Stafford was in record form to start 2022 but now is having to adjust to a new coach and training environment. She left renowned coach Jerry Schumacher and the Bowerman Track Club in Portland, Ore., after 18 months to work with Trent and Hilary Stellingwerff in Victoria.
DeBues-Stafford, who placed fifth in the women’s Olympic 1,500 in Tokyo, said the move three months before worlds was necessary “for the sake of my athletic performance and mental health.”
The 26-year-old DeBues-Stafford, who holds seven Canadian records between indoor and outdoor track, was motivated to leave Bowerman to minimize any negative stress after the doping ban of her former Portland training partner Shelby Houlihan and the latter’s continued presence around the team became too much to handle.
“The good stress of competition and executing an important workout will help you perform at the highest level,” DeBues-Stafford said in a recent interview with CBC Sports’ Brenda Irving. “It’s a good environment [in B.C.] to make sure I’m dialed in and not distracted by any noise around training.”
Canadian record chase
Marco Arop made his Diamond League Final debut in 2021, finishing fourth in the men’s 800 metres a month after missing the final at his Olympic debut. Ranked third in the world, the 23-year-old will try to redeem himself at his second world championships after placing seventh in the 2019 final.
The Edmonton native, who won two Diamond League races post-Olympics, will also attempt to break Brandon McBride’s Canadian record after coming within 6-100ths of a second in 1:43.26 at Diamond League Monaco last July. Doha will be his outdoor season debut in the 800 after clocking a 46.10 PB in a 400 race at Starkville, Miss., where he trains.
WATCH | Arop narrowly misses Canadian record in Stockholm:
6.20 metres and counting for Duplantis
On the international front, Sweden’s Armand “Mondo” Duplantis continues to raise the bar, literally, in men’s pole vault. Two weeks after clearing a new world record height indoors of 6.19 metres in March, he reached 6.20 to win gold at the world indoor championships in Belgrade, Serbia.
WR!!!! #6.19 <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/borntofly?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#borntofly</a> <a href=”https://t.co/UghhIVutxv”>pic.twitter.com/UghhIVutxv</a>
That mark also stands as the outdoor world mark as World Athletics regulations state world records can be set in a facility “with or without a roof.”
The reigning Olympic champion claimed his first Diamond League Trophy last season and will be eyeing a second career Diamond League victory in Doha after prevailing in September 2020 with a 5.82 clearance.
Crouser’s shot put dominance
It will be interesting to watch what American Ryan Crouser can do for an encore after his 2021 shot put season rated as one of the greatest in history.
It began with a U.S. and world record effort of 22.82 metres, topping Randy Barnes’ 22.66 indoor mark from 1989. Barnes’ 1990 outdoor world record of 23.12 also fell last year, courtesy Crouser (23.37), at the Olympic trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
A month later, the six-foot-seven, 320-pound Crouser threw an Olympic record 22.83 to repeat as champion and went on to win his first Diamond League Trophy in five attempts.
Crouser will return to Eugene later this month at the Prefontaine Classic to renew his rivalry with fellow American Joe Kovacs and Tom Walsh of New Zealand.
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