Athletics

De Grasse: I'd love to beat Bolt

Canadian rising star wants to gatecrash Jamaican superstar's farewell party in London

Usain Bolt's rivals will, for once, be glad to see the back of a man who has dominated global sprinting for the last decade, but the sport of athletics will be far less enthusiastic about bidding a final farewell to the charismatic Jamaican.

Bolt has completed the sprint double at the last three Olympics and, had he not been disqualified ahead of the 100 metres final at Daegu, South Korea, in 2011, the 30-year-old could have matched that feat at the last four world championships.

In an era blighted by doping scandals, the Jamaican has almost single-handedly kept the sport afloat, but his commanding reign will come to an end when he retires after this month's world championships, which start in London this weekend.

In the simple matter of who will take his place at the top of the 100m podium either at or after London, Canada's rising star Andre de Grasse appears to be just ahead of the pack as the leading candidate.

The 22-year-old, who signed the most lucrative contract offered to a track and field athlete in 2015 for a reported £7.5 million (S$13.4m) with an extra £20m in potential bonuses, is looking to improve on his Olympic bronze in the 100m and silver in the 200m last year.

De Grasse, whose mother had to take on two jobs to help him pursue his sporting dreams, admitted the contract put pressure on him, especially as it was with Bolt's kit provider Puma.

"To replace the greatest in Usain Bolt, I knew what I was getting into," de Grasse told the Daily Mail yesterday.

"I knew it would provide for myself and my family. (But) I was thinking, 'Can I handle this and take on the pressure?'.

"I can't have fears or hold back, I want to relish it."

With Bolt opting not to run the 200m in London, de Grasse's chance to deny the charismatic Jamaican a 12th world gold medal comes in the 100m, provided he reaches Saturday's final.

The Canadian, who took up athletics only at the age of 17 after trying his hand at basketball, said he needs to beat Bolt before he can be described as a rival.

"It's not a rivalry," said de Grasse, who has shown some sparkling form this season by running a wind-assisted 9.69sec in the 100m at the Stockholm Diamond League meeting in June.

"He has dominated for so long. I've still not beaten him - but I'd love to.

"To have a rivalry, you have to have a back and forth.

"He is on his way out and a veteran. I'm trying to prove myself.

"I want to be an Olympic champion, world champion, maybe even (set) a world record. I'm determined to be the best."

American veteran Justin Gatlin is backing de Grasse to take over Bolt's mantle.

"De Grasse shows up when it counts. That's the mark of a veteran, even though he has been in the sport not too long," said the Olympic gold medallist in 2004 and runner-up behind Bolt in Rio last year.

But whether any athlete can come close to matching Bolt's dominance and charisma is a different matter.

"You would have to have someone who is dominating, no one is doing that," said Michael Johnson, a former Olympic 200m and 400m champion.

"You would have to have someone who has something special in terms of personality.

"In track and field, after I left, it wasn't like somebody just stepped in.

"It was eight years before Bolt came along." - WIRE SERVICES

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