Canada’s Andre De Grasse ends wait for Olympic gold in men’s 200m

And relax. Andre De Grasse is the men’s 200m Olympic gold medallist, and a champion for the first time after a thrilling final on a steamy night at the Tokyo 2020 National Stadium.

This was a race De Grasse always seemed to be winning without ever seeming to push too hard, producing one of those thrillingly smooth, deceptively light-touch surges as the field unwound round the bend.

There was late drama as 26-year-old De Grasse saw off a pursuing peloton of red and blue US vests, the hand of US track and field clutching at his heel but failing to find a grip. Kenny Bednarek, a 22-year-old from Wisconsin, took the silver ahead of Noah Lyles, the world champion. The prodigious 17-year-old Erriyon Knighton, a high school kid from Florida, finished fourth.

For De Grasse the pursuit of Olympic gold has been a story of a moment delayed, and perhaps even a rising tension. De Grasse admitted he did not really take his first Olympics seriously enough, happy just to be in Rio five years ago alongside so many giants of the track.

But the years have a habit of getting behind you, and he came to Tokyo 2020 with seven bronze or silver medals in major championships. Bronze in the 100m four days ago made it eight. De Grasse spent five years being “the next one”, in the words of Usain Bolt. He is a dream of an athlete, all easy grace, and in the sweet spot of his mid-20s prime. But at some point there will be a reckoning up.

No pressure, then. At 9.50pm Tokyo time De Grasse walked out for the pre-race unveiling with an impossibly disarming smile, sunglasses on his head, waving vaguely, beaming out at the world.

The appearance, was, of course, entirely misleading. Nothing this good is that easy. De Grasse is Olympic champion now because he has refined relentlessly the mechanics of what he does, and because he has worked like a maniac on his fitness this year, recognising that the process of racing through a championship is uniquely gruelling.

And in the end it always felt like his night. Three lanes across at the start, Lyles had roared like a Nordic god as his own name was read out, raising his arms to the sky. There are many routes to the end of that rubberised track.

Bednarek, who has been calling himself “Kung Fu Kenny” – nickname explainer: he used to wear a headband – did his bowed head signature. De Grasse was still grinning, still impossibly charming even as he took a breath and prepared to contemplate the blocks.

At the gun it was Lyles who went off hardest, his start an extension of that roar: he absolutely batters the track. But it was De Grasse who surged off the bend, finding his deeper gear and starting to go, knees raised higher, with something beautifully severe in that extended stride. He crossed the line in a new personal best and national record of 19.62sec.

De Grasse is interesting in other ways. He may run like a prince, but he was not an early years prodigy, more a casual sprinter, press-ganged into taking up the sport by the lure of “girls” at the track, so the story goes. He ran his first race in basketball shoes, with a standing start. Yeah, whatever. His talent was no longer a secret. He bummed around a bit, fixed cars, wondered what to do with himself, but kept coming back to the track, and to people who knew what he could become.

From that point the story is more familiar, the usual swagger through junior level national championships, always, in this case, with a sense of something in reserve. De Grasse is not about that explosion out of the blocks, the idea of running as a fight, an attack on the space in front of you. Like Bolt he has the kind of speed that needs to be released and allowed to breathe. And it came here as De Grasse found a path between the three Americans.

Bednarek pushed him to the line, a wonderful performance from an athlete who is coached by Dennis Mitchell, and who has felt in the past a little overlooked, underrated in the glow of the major college glory-boys. “It motivated me,” he said.

Lyles faded in the last few strides to finish with bronze, before devoting the medal to his brother in the mixed zone. Knighton, such a grand talent, was mortified by his fourth place, barely able to muster a sentence. His moment will surely also come.

And so the torch has passed, to some degree, if we can mention that lurking presence. This 200m final was always going to be the moment where the waters closed a little more over the head of Bolt. That 13-year reign as Olympic sprints champion is now done.

A world record remains, and that incomparable bloom of medals. But the GOAT is now history. As is De Grasse’s own search for gold. “I just can’t wait to be on the podium tomorrow to have it in my hand,” he said, sounding for the first time, something other than utterly serene.