With a glance to his right while crossing the line to win his 200m semi-final at the Rio Olympics, Usain Bolt flashed a smile and wagged his finger at Andre De Grasse, the young Canadian who had foolishly attempted to beat the greatest sprinter in history.
The meaning of the gesture was obvious: “Come at the king, you best not miss.” But there was something else – while the sprinting hierarchy was undeniable, it felt as though Bolt was anointing his successor. And as De Grasse went on to add Olympic 200m silver to the 100m bronze he had won a few days before, the Canadian looked a natural fit.
Just behind him in that 200m final was Britain’s Adam Gemili, who missed out on a medal by the trifling margin of just 0.003sec. In the next era of global sprinting it seemed inconceivable that De Grasse and Gemili would not be at the forefront.
That was then; this is now. Three years on and with injuries taking their toll, neither man has stood as an individual on an international podium since. Both intend to rectify that this year.
Gemili sits back on his chair and puffs his cheeks as he considers the question of how quick De Grasse could run this summer. “Seriously quick,” is what he settles on.
Gemili, 25, knows better than most. The two sprinters have been training partners since his coach Rana Reider relocated from Holland to Florida at the back end of last year and De Grasse, 24, decided to join the camp. The forgotten men of global sprinting, supporting each other through near identical struggles and battling their way back to full health. Which is where they are now, finally fit and ready to line up over 100m at the Anniversary Games on Saturday – something neither was able to do a year after their Olympic exploits, when the World Championships came to London.
For Gemili, the troubles all date back to 2015, when he tore his hamstring while dipping over the line to record the fastest 100m time of his life at the British Championships.
He has featured on and off since, managing that fourth place at the Olympics, but regular flare-ups have stunted his progress. Even this summer he was forced to miss two months after yet another hamstring injury in May. “People don’t realise how bad that first injury was in 2015,” he says. “It messed up my whole hamstring, tendons and stuff.”
Like Kryptonite to the world’s fastest men, it was also a torn hamstring that derailed De Grasse’s career, first forcing him to pull out on the eve of the 2017 World Championships and then doing exactly the same at the Commonwealth Games a year later. When he contracted glandular fever last summer it only added illness to injury.
In their absence, new figures have emerged. Americans Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles have become the dominant sprinters on the global stage, while Zharnel Hughes and Reece Prescod are the leading British men.
“It’s inspiring to see because when I’m fit and healthy I can hopefully be challenging those guys for world and Olympic medals,” insists Gemili.
“Things really went well for me coming into the sport when I was 18. Since 2015 I had a half-good Olympics, but it wasn’t as good as it should have been, and since then I haven’t been able to progress and run to my full potential.
“For the last two years I haven’t been able to run at full whack really. I haven’t been able to train and when you don’t train you can’t put in the work.
“This is a comeback season to try and show people that I am still around and can still run.”
Using others as motivation is an outlook De Grasse shares. “Seeing new names come in and I wasn’t in the mix definitely hurt just sitting back and watching,” he says. “I tried to use that as fuel to make it back and be at my best at the top again.
“When I started training with Adam we had battled the same issues so we just encouraged each other to keep going, trying to figure out ways to bounce back. We helped each other a lot.”
While De Grasse’s troubles offered him the opportunity to spend more time with his daughter Yuri, who turned one last month, Gemili’s determination to recover full fitness came at a greater price, with the decision to follow his coach across the Atlantic.
“It was a big move,” he says. “It cost me a lot – not seeing my family every day and I’m not with my girlfriend anymore because of the distance.
“There were a lot of sacrifices to make, but you have to take those risks. You don’t get a long career and I want to do everything I can.
“I’ve probably done about 50 per cent of the programme for the past two years and I’m now seeing the benefits of being able to do it.”
The proof has been in his performances this year. Despite the latest hamstring issue, he ran one of Britain’s fastest ever legs before his injury at the World Relays, and returned to action with a fine 10.12-second 100m this week.
De Grasse has this season run his fastest 200m time since that Rio Olympics semi-final behind Bolt and finished in the top three in every international race he has contested.
“I just want to go out there and know what it feels like to race again,” he says. “I know it’s going to take a while to be back where I was and start running personal bests, but I’m happy with my consistency and I know that when it’s time for me to peak for the World Championships the times will come.
“The World Championships are late this year in October so by then I should be in great form. By then I should be able to compete very well in the 100m and 200m because I plan to do both.”
It has been a long time coming.