Fast Forward With Olympian Andre De Grasse
For most Canadians, Andre De Grasse appeared out of nowhere – the new kid on the blocks at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto who won both the 100-metre and 200-metre races for Canada. We loved his speed, his smile, his charming modesty. And we loved the back story, too – the young man from Markham, Ont., raised by his mother to be a devout Catholic, who had only been running sprints since grade 11, when a school friend persuaded him to enter a 100-metre race. De Grasse wore some old basketball shorts and basketball shoes and didn’t use starting blocks – he didn’t know how. He finished in 10.9 seconds, impressing veteran coach and former Olympian Tony Sharpe, who became his first mentor.
While ready-to-wear fits Andre De Grasse with ease, the option of Samuelsohn’s made-to-measure program allowed him the chance to select the performance fabrics of his choice.
De Grasse has been running faster and faster ever since: 9.92 seconds at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing; 9.91 at the 2016 Rio Olympics. At that event, he won three medals, the first Canadian track athlete ever to do that. He was still only 21 years old.
Which feat means the most to him? “You may be really surprised about this,” he says, “but I’d say the Pan Am Games. I was younger and in front of my home crowd; I didn’t want to let the country down. I felt more pressure there than at the Olympics!”
“A lot of people don’t ever see me dressed up because I’m always in athletic wear,” says Andre De Grasse. “So when they do, they’re like, ‘Oh, wow, you actually have some style!’ Big surprise!”
De Grasse turned professional at the end of 2015, signing with Puma AG for $11.25 million, the largest opening contract in the history of track and field. “Probably one of the best days of my life,” he says, “though it didn’t seem real on the day. I was doing the interviews, signing on the dotted line, but at the same time I didn’t believe it. Not till the first cheque came in, two months later.”
We caught up with De Grasse last November at the University of Southern California in L.A., where he was finishing his sociology degree, honouring a promise he had made to his mother – and to himself. Time has been precious since Rio but he has come back to Canada for occasional weekend visits – to attend a parade in Markham, held in his honour, and to be feted by the Toronto Raptors at a basketball game. Mostly just to hang out with friends and family, watching movies.
“I like dressing up when I’m away from the track. It makes me feel comfortable and confident and outside the bubble of being just an athlete.” In appreciation of Mr. De Grasse’s appearance in these pages, Harry Rosen has made a donation to The Speed Academy in Pickering, Ont., where Mr. De Grasse trained early in his career.
By now, he’ll be embedded once again in his coaches’ regimes, back in Phoenix, Arizona, where he trains with the elite ALTIS organization. That’s where the hard work comes in. “Yeah, all the pain, all the suffering, all the throwing up happens in training,” he explains with a rueful little laugh. “But then, when you go up there, you’re ready and you’re free and you can have fun. My coaches tell me to have fun – but I also want to win.”
De Grasse had fun at the Olympics, bonding with Usain Bolt. “That was great,” he confirms, “racing against the fastest man ever. My first Olympics, his last. People talk about him passing on the torch to me, and that’s a really cool feeling. That’s an honour. Now it’s up to me to live up to it. I’m looking forward to having the opportunity.”