ROME — Andre De Grasse isn’t interested in taking over from Usain Bolt as the world’s best sprinter when the eight-time Olympic champion retires later this year.
He’s ready now.
“I’m trying to win this year. I feel like I have a great chance and that’s what I want to do,” De Grasse told The Associated Press ahead of Thursday’s Golden Gala Pietro Mennea meet, where the Canadian will run the 200 metres.
Bolt won’t be running in Rome, but De Grasse is looking forward to racing the Jamaican great at the world championships in London in August.
“I feel like I have a great chance in both events — 100 or 200,” De Grasse said. “If I can execute my race and I’m in top shape I feel like I can do that.”
The 22-year-old De Grasse took silver behind Bolt in the 200 at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and bronze behind Bolt and Justin Gatlin in the 100. Having also anchored Canada to a bronze medal in the 4×100 relay in Rio, De Grasse became the first Canadian sprinter to win three medals in a single Olympics.
De Grasse pushed Bolt so hard in the semifinals of the 200 in Rio that Bolt acknowledged it was draining and prevented him from improving his world record a night later.
At the worlds, Bolt is set to appear in two events.
“Usain is planning to run the 100m and 4x100m at the World Championships,” Ricky Simms, Bolt’s manager, wrote in an email to The AP on Wednesday.
So what would it take to beat Bolt in the 100 in August?
“No idea. It’s anybody’s game. You can’t name a time,” De Grasse said. “It’s always about weather and conditions and those types of things. But it’s going to obviously take a well-executed race. I have to be at the top of my game and if I can do that I can do something special.”
De Grasse is working on improving his starts, which also happens to be the only area that Bolt struggles in.
“If I can have a great start and try to hold the lead that would be great,” De Grasse said. “My top-end speed is good. It’s all about finding the right factors to go out there and win.”
As a teen, De Grasse ran one of his first races wearing basketball shorts and borrowed shoes. He stood up in the blocks while others crouched. It launched his career and led him to signing a big contract with Puma — the same company that sponsors Bolt.
“I was a basketball guy growing up so most of my guys that I looked up to were in the NBA like Allen Iverson and Vince Carter,” said De Grasse, who was born in Ontario to Caribbean parents. “I never really had any track fanatics growing up that I idolized.”
At the Stadio Olimpico, De Grasse’s top competition should come from Olympic bronze medallist Christophe Lemaitre of France. Also in the field is Filippo Tortu, an 18-year-old Italian making his Diamond League debut.
“Since we have high expectations for the kid we’ve set up a big-time race,” meet director Luigi D’Onofrio said of Tortu, who took silver in the 100 at last year’s junior worlds. “If he wants to improve he’s got to race right away against the champions.”
Another highlight of the meet should be the women’s 5,000.
After coming up short in Eugene, Oregon, last month, Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia will make another attempt to break the world record held by her older sister, Tirunesh. Having Hellen Obiri of Kenya in the field could help matters. Obiri clocked a world-leading 14 minutes, 22.47 seconds in Shanghai, three seconds quicker than Dibaba managed in Eugene two weeks later.
In the javelin, Thomas Rohler of Germany looks to improve on his 93.90 in Doha, Qatar, last month, which was the longest throw in 20 years.
Also, Caterine Ibarguen of Colombia will hope to extend her year-long unbeaten streak in the triple jump. Competition could come from world indoor champion Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela, the world leader by more than half a meter.