July 21, 2015 / 8:44 PM / 2 years ago

Canada's De Grasse opens Pan Am quest in smooth style

From left Jason Livermore of Jamaica , Daniel Bailey of Antigua and Andre De Grasse of Canada race in a men's athletics 100m preliminary heat during the 2015 Pan Am Games at CIBC Pan Am Athletics Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian sprint sensation Andre De Grasse took a step in the right direction in his bid to sweep three events at the Pan American Games by advancing to the marquee 100 meters semi-finals on Tuesday.

De Grasse won his heat in 10.06 seconds, leaving plenty in the tank for Wednesday’s semi-final where he will try to qualify for the final that night.

“It felt pretty good, this was the first time actually on the track today, I wasn’t able to go yesterday but it felt really good,” said De Grasse, who is also competing in the men’s 200m on Thursday and men’s 4x100m relay beginning on Friday. “I‘m trying to get out here and get through the rounds.”

De Grasse emerged this year as Canada’s biggest sprinting sensation since Donovan Bailey, who won the 100m gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics with a then-world record time of 9.84.

The 20-year-old is already the first Canadian since 1999 to run under 10 seconds in a 100m race when he clocked 9.97 seconds at the Pac-12 track and field championships two months ago.

He followed that with a wind assisted run of 9.75 seconds at last month’s U.S. collegiate championships in Oregon.

De Grasse’s race on Tuesday was nowhere near his best - he ran 9.95 seconds earlier this month in Edmonton - but he gave exactly enough to advance and was able to get a feel for the track and starting blocks.

And like some of the great sprinters before him, it is all part of a bigger plan to peak at the right moment.

“That’s really all that matters isn’t it? You need to have the big performance when it matters and Andre has proven that,” Tony Sharpe, a 1984 Olympic sprinter who is one of Canada’s top sprint coaches, told reporters.

The day was circled on many Canadians’ calendars since it marked De Grasse’s first race of the Games but a pair of his compatriots did well to grab a share of the spotlight.

Shawn Barber, a favorite to medal at next month’s world championships in Beijing, equaled a Pan Am record when he cleared 5.80 meters in the men’s pole vault to capture the gold medal.

Elizabeth Gleadle was sitting third going into her final attempt of the women’s javelin competition but used her best throw of the day - 62.83 meters - to claim the gold and knock American Kara Winger off the top step of the podium.

For De Grasse, the potential of winning a gold medal on home soil in the showcase event of a multi-sport competition would be a huge step in getting Canadian sprinting back to those Bailey-like levels.

It also comes with immense pressure and the expectations of an entire country, something Sharpe does not expect will rattle the sprinter.

“Before, he was kind of in the background but now that’s it’s on him it’s going to be great to see how he responds to that bit of pressure,” said Sharpe.

“Now you know who Andre De Grasse is, so it’s a little different and we’ll see how he responds, but I have a feeling that he’ll be just fine.”

Editing by Gene Cherry

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