It’s ‘Canada against the world’ in men’s 200m sprint at Botswana Golden Grand Prix

Jerome Blake insists there’s no chirping but rather a business-like approach to this week’s track showdown with sprint teammates Andre De Grasse, Aaron Brown and Brendon Rodney.

They won world championship gold in the 100-metre relay last summer, but the batons will be tucked away Saturday when they’ll be foes for about 20 seconds in the men’s 200 metres at the Botswana Golden Grand Prix.

“Canada against the world,” Blake declared to CBC Sports via email after arriving in Gaborone just before midnight local time on Tuesday. “We haven’t talked about [facing each other]. We all have different things we are focused on.

“I’m sure it will be nice going against each other this early in the season, [maybe] what Canadian [Olympic] trials might look like [in late] July. But my focus is trying to run the best race I can.”

Scheduled for 10:23 a.m. ET, Saturday’s 200 will be available on, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Live stream coverage of the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meet begins at 8:30 a.m.

Rodney is the only Canadian in the race to have competed at the distance this season, having clocked 20.42 for fourth place earlier this month at the Miramar Invitational in Florida. The 31-year-old from Etobicoke, Ont., also posted a 10.17 personal best in the 100 on March 25 in Kingston, Jamaica.

They ran their first 4×100 of the year at the Florida Relays in Gainesville on April 1 in a winning time of 37.80, only 32-100ths of a second off their world performance last July in Eugene, Ore.

“To run [that] fast this early is shocking because we’re going to continue to improve,” Brown told CBC Sports recently. “None of us felt super sharp. I know Andre’s still getting back to 100 per cent [from a foot injury last year], Jerome also dealt with some back [issues] and Brendon seems like he’s in better shape.

Relay reunion in Paris?

“It’s a matter of us getting sharp and improving in our individual races. [In the relay] we’re trying to push our [acceleration and exchange] zone times and improve.”

Brown added they could reunite June 9 for the 4×100 at the Meeting de Paris — one of 15 events on the 2023 Diamond League professional track and field calendar — or reconvene at a relay camp before the Aug. 19-27 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary.

WATCH | Breaking down Canada’s 4×100 relay win at 2022 worlds:

Canadian men golden in 4x100m at World Championships

Canada’s Aaron Brown, Jerome Blake, Brendon Rodney and Andre De Grasse topped the men’s 4x100m podium at the 2022 World Athletics Championships.

Blake is just happy to be running pain-free. The 27-year-old from Kelowna, B.C., suffered stress reactions in each side of his lower back during a 20.74 effort in the 200 last June 5 in Rabat, Morocco. A stress reaction is like a bone bruise, which arises from trauma or overuse.

I chose to step on the [start] line knowing I wasn’t fully healthy. … I would rather finish last and not say what’s going on [physically].— Canadian sprinter Jerome Blake on battling 2 stress reactions in his back last season

After a season-best 20.04 in his opening race at the USATF Golden Games in California and 20.14 clocking at the end of May in Ostrava, Blake noted he “ran in pain” the next two months and never under 20.29, cutting his 2022 campaign short after the 100, 200 and relay at worlds.

“I couldn’t run the turn properly [in the 200]. I couldn’t start properly because I couldn’t push from the blocks with the pain I was in,” said Blake, who will use Saturday as a tune-up for the May 5 Diamond League season opener in Doha, Qatar, where he will oppose Brown and De Grasse.

“I chose to step on the [start] line knowing I wasn’t fully healthy. When you work so hard for months [to prepare for competition] it’s hard to sit and watch knowing you could be out there. I would rather finish last and not say what’s going on [physically but] it was difficult knowing that I was not able to do my best.”

Months later, Blake feels better coming off the turn and with his acceleration and finish in races. He’s following the advice of his support team and coaches with the Star Athletics elite track club in Orlando Fla. (where Brown also trains) in hopes of remaining healthy for the chance to run under the 20.16 automatic entry standard for this year’s worlds.

Liberian-American sprinter Joseph Fahnbulleh, the 2022 NCAA Division 1 champion in the 200, and Alex Ogando of the Dominican Republic placed 4-5 to beat Brown (7th) at last year’s worlds and are part of Saturday’s field of eight. Botswana’s Letsile Tebogo (two-time world U20 gold medallist) and Anthony Pesela (2022 national champion) round out the group.

Tebogo is also racing the 100 against American standouts Marvin Bracy (reigning world silver medallist) and Kenny Bednarek, along with Brown, at 9:23 a.m. ET.

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