For all his fame as an elite sprinter, Canada’s Andre De Grasse had never won a major international race. He was known for being consistently good, but never great.

On Wednesday, he stamped his name on sprinting history becoming the first Canadian to win gold at the 200m for nearly a century.

In typical fashion, De Grasse started slowly (relatively speaking). He was in a thicket of Americans as he closed on the finish. But in the final metres, De Grasse pulled ahead of his competitors. He finished in 19.62 – both his best ever, and the finest run over this distance ever put in by a Canadian.

De Grasse has five medals. But now he can call himself an Olympic champion.

Tokyo Olympics: De Grasse takes gold in 200 metres; Benfeito books her spot in 10-metre platform semifinal

Compatriot Aaron Brown ran a very game 20.20, finishing sixth.

A month ago, De Grasse and Brown finished 1-2 in the 200m in a race in Oslo. There is pedigree there.

If De Grasse was the breakout track star at Rio 2016 – winner of three medals, new bestie of Usain Bolt – Brown was the hard-luck kid.

Despite a burgeoning resume (sub-20-seconds in the 200, once beat Tyson Gay during his glory days) Brown failed to make any final in Brazil.

His solution was to refine his game. He didn’t enter the 100m in Tokyo. Instead, he focussed on the longer sprint.

“I ran pretty relaxed,” Brown said after qualifying. “I think there’s more there.”

De Grasse went the completist route. Winning a bronze in Sunday’s 100m seemed to vindicate that choice. He qualified fastest for Wednesday’s race, but qualifying has not been much of an indicator here of where anyone’s results will end up.

This has been an unusual meet all around. The heat is crushing. Just standing in the outfield under the pounding sun of an afternoon session is an endurance test.

Athletes who’d initially said they enjoyed it hot started backtracking after they’d had a chance to compete in direct sunlight. De Grasse raced twice on Tuesday – the afternoon showing was unusually sluggish, but once the sun set, he was flying.

“I just needed a little more sleep,” De Grasse said after setting a new Canadian record in that semi. “Went back to my room, took a nap for about two hours. Woke up and felt good.”

The Olympic Stadium track here in Tokyo is essentially a concrete trampoline, resulting in some exceptionally fast times. World records haven’t just been falling. In some cases, they are being obliterated.

The best single event yet has been the final of the men’s 400m hurdles. Norway’s Carsten Warholm beat his own best-ever time, and so did the second-place finisher, American Rai Benjamin. Afterward, Warholm tried to hulk out and rip off his own shirt. Turns out he’s a better sprinter than Hulk Hogan impersonator. After one try, he gave up. It was too hot to bother.

That mix of conditions has made it possible for people who didn’t arrive here with a lot of advance billing to surprise. When De Grasse was asked to describe the winner of the 100m, Italy’s Lamont Marcell Jacobs, he said he didn’t know him. Not as in, isn’t friends with him. But had never before spoken to him.

You could say the same of De Grasse. He wasn’t the favourite in this race. But on the day, he was untouchable.

And it’s not over yet. Led by De Grasse, Canada’s men’s sprinters will have another chance for medals in Friday’s 4x100m relay.

The Globe and Mail, August 4, 2021