Donovan Bailey isn't ready to declare Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse the odds-on favourite to become the next men's Olympic 100-metre champion.
Sure, reigning world champ Christian Coleman isn't likely to race in the Tokyo Olympic final on Aug. 1, 2021 — he's reportedly appealing a two-year ban announced Tuesday after three violations of doping control rules — but fellow American Justin Gatlin, 38, continues to shine, as do others.
"It's a toss-up," Bailey, the 1996 Olympic gold medallist in the 100, said in a phone interview. "There are easily five men that could be the No. 1 guy in Tokyo and Andre's in the mix. It's now a very level playing field."
Bailey added the Coleman news should provide De Grasse a confidence boost as he prepares for Tokyo.
De Grasse, who "respectfully declined" through his agent to be interviewed for this story, had a standout 2019 comeback season after being sidelined much of 2017 and 2018 with right hamstring injuries.
The 25-year-old from Markham, Ont., reached the podium in six of eight races in the 100 on the professional Diamond League circuit and the last of his four sub-10-second performances earned him a bronze medal at the world championships in Doha, Qatar.
WATCH | De Grasse sets 9.90-second personal-best in world final:
De Grasse's 9.90 personal-best time, behind the top-ranked Coleman (9.76) and Gatlin (9.89), was his fastest since he stopped the clock in 9.91 for a third-place finish in the 2016 Olympic final in Rio, where he became the first Canadian athlete to win Olympic medals in the 100 (bronze), 200 (silver) and 4x100 relay (bronze).
"One of the things Andre showed is he's getting all of his confidence back," Bailey said of De Grasse in September 2019. "He's got a little swagger and he's certainly not afraid of anyone."
'He doesn't panic'
On Wednesday, the CBC Sports track analyst reiterated De Grasse seems relaxed on the biggest stage at major international championships.
"Andre's speed endurance has always been pretty good and he tends to relax the longer a race is," Bailey said. "He doesn't panic like some other sprinters. You have to have a level of confidence if you're going to compete in the 100 metres.
"All my work was done before a big race and Andre's should be as well before Tokyo so there's nothing else to think about but relaxing, taking it all in and putting your best foot forward."
WATCH | Noah Lyles tops De Grasse in heats at Florida meet:
This will be paramount for De Grasse, Bailey noted, should it be safe enough for track athletes to race in Europe early in 2021 during a global pandemic.
Five different men prevailed across the eight Diamond League meets in 2019 and 10 reached the podium, indicating the path to Olympic gold is wide open after the retired Usain Bolt won three in row before retiring in 2017.
Lyles won twice, clocking 9.86 to defeat Coleman in a photo finish in May 2019 in China and finishing the season on top at the Diamond League Final in Zurich. With Coleman no longer a threat in 2021, Bailey wondered if the "very good and very consistent" Lyles would double up and race the 100 in Tokyo as well as the 200, his signature event.
Gatlin 'not afraid of big stage'
Ditto for De Grasse, who ranks sixth in the world in the 100 and third in the 200. Gatlin holds a 4-3 edge in career matchups versus the the Canadian, who lost a pair of races to Lyles at Florida meets in July after De Grasse dropped a showdown in the 200 to his American opponent in the world final on Oct. 1, 2019.
"He has to stay healthy [in 2021] and be consistent when he is racing," said Bailey of De Grasse. "You can't worry about who is or isn't in the next lane. The goal is to get in [the Olympic final] and run your own race. All Andre can do is get prepared for anything and everything."
Gatlin won Olympic gold in 2004, ran 9.79 to earn bronze at the 2012 London Olympics and captured silver four years later in Rio.
"He's not afraid of the big stage," Bailey said, "and seems to be getting more technically sound as he gets older."
WATCH | Canada's Olympic medal contenders in track and field:
South Africa's Akani Simbine placed fourth at the 2019 worlds and this past March clocked 9.91 racing in the capital city of Pretoria.
"He seems to run very fast in South Africa but when he gets to Europe it takes him a while to adjust," said Bailey. "He definitely has the speed and talent to win but has yet to do that on the big stage."
Rounding out Bailey's list of Olympic contenders is six-foot-three Anguillan-British sprinter Zharnel Hughes (9.91 PB), 2011 world champion Yohan Blake of Jamaica (three Diamond League podiums in 2019) and Toronto native Aaron Brown, who was eighth in the Doha world final in 10.08.
"There's no reason Hughes shouldn't be running 9.7 if he can put together his [race] phases consistently," Bailey said, "and Blake should be able to put up 9.7 or 9.8 if he can get out of his own head and way.
"Aaron has the potential to be in the mix if he gets a bit more aggressive," added Bailey of the 2019 Canadian champion. "When he gets to top speed, he's very good, but he definitely needs work on his first 30 [metres]."