De Grasse looks for edge vs. Coleman in much-anticipated 100m showdown

Burst out of the starting blocks and stay tall in the middle of the race.

That’s the advice of 1996 Canadian Olympic 100-metre champion Donovan Bailey to Andre De Grasse, who will attempt to beat this year’s top man in the event, Christian Coleman, at the Müller Grand Prix Diamond League track and field event on Sunday in Birmingham, U.K. (CBCSports.ca, 9 a.m. ET).

It will mark the first head-to-head meeting between the two in the 100 since the 2015 NCAA championships when De Grasse won the 100 and 200 in Eugene, Ore., and Coleman – then a then a University of Tennessee freshman – failed to qualify for the 100 final.

But the 23-year-old Atlanta native has since made huge strides, capturing 100 and 200 gold at the 2017 NCAAs, winning a world silver medal later that year and posting a 2019 world-leading time of 9.81 at the Diamond League’s Prefontaine Classic on June 30.

Still, De Grasse has Coleman’s number, also passing him in the final 10 metres of the 200 on a wet track to clock a season-best 19.91 two months ago at the 58th Golden Spike in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Coleman was second in 19.97.

Coleman vulnerable in closing metres?

“There might be a slight advantage mentally for Andre [entering Sunday’s race],” says Bailey, now a CBC Sports track analyst, “but Coleman has established himself as the No. 1 sprinter in the world, and Andre has worked himself back in the conversation.”

De Grasse, 24, has done so by returning from a pair of strained right hamstring injuries each of the past two years to reach the podium in nine of his 10 combined 100 and 200 races this season. On July 26, his 9.98 effort in the 100 semifinal at the Canadian championships in Montreal was a season best. De Grasse followed with a 10.03 in the final later in the day, placing second to Toronto’s Aaron Brown in a photo finish.

De Grasse closed hard, something he has done often in 2019 and that could pose problems for the rest of the field in Birmingham. Coleman, while extremely fast out of the blocks, has appeared vulnerable at times this season in the final metres.

In May, he gained an early edge on Noah Lyles in the 100 at a Diamond League meet in Shanghai, only to be caught late by his American teammate with a larger stride who prevailed in a photo finish after both men crossed the line in 9.86.

“We’ll see what kind of top speed Andre has,” says Bailey, noting De Grasse’s ability to stay relaxed at 50 metres gives him the better chance to have a more complete race. “I think there are still some technical [issues] Coleman is having and Andre can certainly use this week in Birmingham to expose that. If Andre runs technically sound, it should be a very close race, or Andre should win.

Seeking faster start

“Christian has such velocity coming out of the blocks but tends to stay in it after he reaches his speed threshold. It’s as though he’s still trying to drive at 80 metres instead of relaxing when the speed generated through 60 metres should be able to carry you.”

De Grasse, on the other hand, continues to work at getting to the 30-metre mark quicker and more efficiently. American Rana Reider, his new coach, told CBC Sports a month ago that the sprinter’s start this season isn’t what it was in 2016 when De Grasse ran healthy and was a triple Olympic medallist in Rio.

“When you have an injury, especially to the hamstring, it becomes a mental issue,” Bailey says. “You have to trust and believe that when you come out of the blocks that you can put [a lot of] torque on the hamstring, your hips, quads, wherever. Andre just has to get comfortable with loading out of the blocks again.”

Sunday’s two semifinal heats at Alexander Stadium, scheduled for 8:46 a.m. and 8:55 a.m., feature six of the world’s top 10 runners in the 100 this season, including No. 4 Akani Simbine of South Africa, American Michael Rodgers (No. 5), eighth-ranked Bingtian Su of China and Jamaica’s Yohan Blake at No. 9. The final is slated for 10:32 a.m.

The 25-year-old Simbine, who has gradually lowered his time from 10.13 since early July and boasts a season-best 9.93, is second to Coleman in the Diamond League standings.

Other Canadians competing in Birmingham:

Melissa Bishop, women’s 800m (9:23 a.m.): Fresh off a victory in Memphis, Tenn., where the 2019 Canadian silver medallist finished 40-100ths of a second off her season-best of 2:01.10, Bishop will attempt to get back to full strength after a recent minor hamstring injury. The 31-year-old native of Eganville, Ont., is close to achieving the 2:00.60 qualifying standard for the world championships in September.

Gabriela DeBues-Stafford, Millicent Fawcett Mile (10:41 a.m.): The Toronto native will compete in the annual one-mile race for women named in honour of the political leader who was instrumental in securing the right to vote for British women in 1918.

DeBues-Stafford, 23, won the Canadian 1,500 metres for a fourth straight year on July 28, two weeks after setting a personal-best in the mile (4:17.87) at Monaco. On July 20, DeBues-Stafford set a national record of 4:00.26 in the 1,500 in London, her third Canadian mark in a 52-day span. DeBues-Stafford, who now lives in Scotland, was 11th of 13 finishers in 4:07.51 last year in Birmingham.

Christian Coleman ran a 9.81 in the men’s 100-metre race at the IAAF Diamond League event at Stanford University. 4:21

Genevieve Lalonde, women’s 3,000 steeplechase (9:55 a.m.): The Moncton native continued a solid season last weekend in Lima, where the 27-year-old clocked a Pan Am-record time of nine minutes 41.45 seconds to win for the third time in four races in 2019. Two weeks earlier, Lalonde won her third consecutive Canadian title in 9:34.85. Earlier this year, the 2018 Canadian cross-country champion placed 20th at the world event in Denmark. Her season- and personal-best is 9.29.82.

Alysha Newman, women’s pole vault (8:07 a.m. ET): She broke her own Canadian record for the second time in the last two months with a 4.77-metre clearance at the Stabhochsprung Jockgrim meet in Germany but dipped to 4.65, 4.56 and 4.55 in three subsequent meets. Newman’s latest effort was good enough for a bronze medal at the Pan Am Games in Lima. Two years ago in Birmingham, she cleared 4.51 to finish eighth.

Diamond League on CBC Sports

CBC Sports is providing live streaming coverage of all 14 Diamond League meets this season at CBCSports.ca and via the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices. TV coverage will be featured as part of the network’s Road To The Olympic Games weekend broadcasts throughout the season.

The following is a list of upcoming Diamond League meets, all times ET:

  • London, England (Saturday/Sunday, 9–11 a.m.)
  • Birmingham, England (Aug. 18, 9–11 a.m.)
  • Paris (Aug. 24, 2–4 p.m.)
  • Zurich (Aug. 29, 2–4 p.m.)
  • Brussels (Sept. 7, 2–4 p.m.)

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