By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - With no Usain Bolt or Justin Gatlin in the field, Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse eased to a leisurely win in his opening heat of the 100 meters at the Pan American Games on Tuesday.
Trinidad and Tobago's Kesston Bledman and Americans Remontay McClain and BeeJay Lee all slipped under 10 seconds in their heats but it was De Grasse getting all the attention despite running 10.06 as the athletics competition got underway.
The 20-year-old emerged this year as Canada's biggest sprinting hope since Donovan Bailey, who won the 100m gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, when he became the first Canadian since 1999 to run under 10 seconds after he clocked 9.97 at the Pac-12 track and field championships two months ago.
He followed that with a wind assisted run of 9.75 seconds at last month's U.S. collegiate championships in Oregon.
"You need to have the big performance when it matters and Andre has proven that," Tony Sharpe, a 1984 Olympic sprinter who is one of Canada's top sprint coaches, told reporters.
"Before, he was kind of in the background but now that's it's on him it's going to be great to see how he responds to that bit of pressure.
"Now you know who Andre De Grasse is, so it's a little different and we'll see how he responds, but I have a feeling that he'll be just fine."
Canada was quick out of the blocks on the opening day of the athletics competition picking up gold medals from Shawnacy Barber in the men's pole vault and Elizabeth Gleadle in the women's javelin.
Matt Hughes then won the 3,000m steeplechase while Mohammed Ahmed took gold in the 10,000m.
The successful day in athletics, however, was not enough to see Canada reel in the United States at the top of the medal table.
The U.S. continues to lead with 69 gold and 183 overall medals while the hosts remain in second with 59 gold and 160. Brazil are a distant third on 32 and 110.
The U.S. picked up just four gold on Tuesday with Queen Harrison taking top spot in the 100m hurdles, Katharine Holmes in women's fencing epee, Paige McPherson in the taekwondo womens 67kg weight class and the table tennis women's team event.
Athletics delivered Jamaica's first gold of the Games with shotputter O'Dayne Richards providing the breakthrough.
Colombian Caterine Ibarguen, Olympic silver medalist in the triple jump added Pan Am gold while Brazil's Juliana Paula Dos Santos won the women's 5,000m.
But there was no gold for Brazil in beach volleyball as Mexico beat the 2016 Olympic hosts in the men's competition and Argentina beat Cuba in the women's final.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)