Even from a young age, it was clear that GTHA’s very own, Andre De Grasse, has a gift. This Caribbean-Canadian sprinter has been referred to in the same category as Olympians Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. De Grasse became a household name in Canada after his amazing run at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. I mean, who could forget the infamous photo of him and Bolt side-by-side smiling while running through the finish line. Bolt himself has unofficially passed the torch to De Grasse, stating multiple times in interviews that this Canadian kid is a force to be reckoned with. Now that he has returned from his second Olympic Games, it’s clear that Andre De Grasse is poised to become the next, fastest man in the world.
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De Grasse’s Early Years
Born and raised in Markham, De Grasse grew up extremely athletic. His mother, Beverley De Grasse, has recalled in interviews how she used to take her son to the park at the age of 4 or 5, in an attempt to burn through his unending energy. Even then, Beverley knew Andre was fast. Being a high school sprinter herself, it was only natural that she wanted De Grasse to find a passion for track like she had. However, Andre had a different plan.
Believe it or not, De Grasse’s first love was basketball. He quickly went from rep ball to playing with the AAU by the time he had entered high school. He played for his school team for most of his time at Milliken Mills High School, and it seemed at the time that De Grasse was on track to play university basketball. However, at the beginning of his final year of high school, his plans were forced to change. There weren’t enough guys to form a basketball team.
After begging to transfer schools (to no avail), De Grasse settled into his final year at school like any normal teenager would. That is, until he ran into his friend, Mikhile Jeremiah, on the bus and learned about his upcoming track meet, the York Regionals. De Grasse decided he wasn’t going to watch, he was going to race. And that’s exactly what he did. In borrowed spikes and basketball shorts, De Grasse ran his first 100-meter final, placing second.
A Sudden Change in Trajectory
In the stands that day, was former Olympian and coach Tony Sharpe who was there to watch one of his athletes compete. He introduced himself to De Grasse, and invited him to his elite youth track club in Pickering called Speed Academy. It was there that De Grasse learned what his natural talent didn’t give him: technique.
De Grasse learned how to use the blocks, and proper body positioning while training at Speed Academy. In an extremely short period of time, De Grasse was able to utilize his new skills to shave four-tenths of a second off his already impressive personal best.
Now that De Grasse was finished high school, he was offered a scholarship from Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. In his first year, he set the school record for the 100-meter sprint. In his second year, he secured his title as the fastest sprinter to ever compete for the junior college. Leaving Coffeyville after four years, and many medals, De Grasse went onto the University of Southern California (USC) to continue his education and start training at a whole different level.
From Prodigy to Pro
De Grasse considers his time at USC to be a game changer for him in his track career. Training under coach Caryl Smith Gilbert, De Grasse was able to work with the latest technology, studied film, ran drills he’d never done before, and found a level of passion and commitment to the sport that he hadn’t fully realized yet. And during the 2015 season, it was clear that his hard work had paid off.
2015 was really the first year that De Grasse had gained some notoriety in the competitive track world. At the NCAA Outdoor Championships, De Grasse won both the 100 and 200-meter races with record-breaking times. Had it not been for the tailwind that day, De Grasse’s race times would have completely shattered all Canadian records. By the end of the 2015 season, De Grasse had won two more gold medals at the Pan Am Games, and a bronze at IAFF World Championships. It was then that De Grasse left USC and went pro.
Andre De Grasse, the Olympian
“I was like ‘it’s my first Olympics and whatever happens happens’. I didn’t take it as seriously as I probably should have,” says De Grasse, as told to the UK Independent, “even though I came away with medals. I was young. I’d just got into the sport so I didn’t really put any high expectations on myself, I just went out there and had fun. This time around I’m a lot more focused a lot more determined.”
“I didn’t take it as seriously as I probably should have,”ANDRE DE GRASSE, AS TOLD TO THE UK INDEPENDENT
In preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, De Grasse put in an incredible amount of not only physical, but mental work into his craft. Since he almost immediately became the face of the Canadian Olympic team, the pressure was on to perform. Against the best in the world no less. By the end of that year’s games, De Grasse was a household name. He proved himself worthy against the fastest sprinter in the world, Usain Bolt. Knowing, as we all did, that Bolt would be retiring after the 2016 Olympics, De Grasse was ready to take his place as one of the best runners of all time. And he did, becoming the first Canadian to win medals in the 100-meter, 200-meter and 4×100 relay race.
Gearing up for 2017 competition at the professional level, De Grasse’s worst nightmare occured: injury. In the week of on-site training leading up to a competition in London, De Grasse felt the snap of his hamstring as he left the starting block during a routine exercise. He was shocked, scared, angry, frustrated, but mostly he was just in pain. His family and girlfriend, fellow Olympian Nia Ali, rallied behind him. But for De Grasse, this was the first instance in his life where real effort was required to succeed.
Up until this point in his life, training, competition and school had come so easily to De Grasse. Now, he was facing the biggest struggle of his career. Just imagine going from the top of your game, one of the best in the world, to having it all (seemingly) taken away. When De Grasse was healed enough to start training in 2018, he literally had to start from scratch. But this time, he was all in; De Grasse had put in the work to heal himself not only physically, but mentally as well.
The Tokyo Olympics
By 2019, De Grasse had gotten back into competition, was dealing with another minor hamstring injury, and had his sights set on the Tokyo Olympics. As he was recovering from his second injury, his and Ali’s daughter Yuri was born. Together, Ali and De Grasse trained for the 2020 Olympic Games.
Once the 2020 Olympics finally opened — a year late following extensive lockdowns through 2020 — De Grasse was named the favourite to win gold in not only the 100-meter race, but the 200-meter and 4×100 relay as well. For De Grasse, the biggest difference between 2016 and 2021 was his mentality. He admits in 2016 he had no expectation going into the games, whereas this past summer he felt the weight of a nation on his shoulders.
By the end of the Tokyo Games, De Grasse had made history again, becoming the first Canadian to win a gold medal in the 200-meter race, as well as taking home bronze in his other two events. De Grasse currently holds the title as Canada’s most decorated track and field athlete and male Olympian. He’s gone 6-for-6 in medals for every Olympic event he has competed in to date.
“To get back on the podium, it’s a great feeling, especially, since we didn’t know last year if this was even going to happen,” De Grasse said of the postponed Olympics, as told to the Globe & Mail. “Of course the past couple of years, just battling injuries. …I ran a personal best, so I can’t complain.”
The Future of Andre DeGrasse
So, what’s next for De Grasse? Well, the 2024 Paris Olympics for one. After his success in Tokyo, De Grasse is poised to place in top positions in the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris. Only time will tell if he can overtake Bolt as the fastest man in the world in the upcoming years, but being the good Canadian that I am, I have nothing but confidence in his athletic abilities.
In the off-season, De Grasse has spent time working with non-profits — like Kid’s Help Phone and others — to bring awareness to mental health issues and provide support for those struggling in his community.There’s no doubt that he will continue to do this amazing work during his down time.
With two young kids at home, Titus and Yuri, De Grasse will continue to grow as a father, athlete, and human in the upcoming years. It goes without saying that we as Canadians are excited to see what feats he will overcome, and records he will beat in the upcoming years. De Grasse remains to this day, the fastest man in Canada and arguably, the world.
Creative/Fashion Direction and Producer: STEVEN BRANCO; Photography: NICK MERZETTI; Production Manager and Contributor: MERRILL FLYNN; Fashion Assistant: NICKESHA MCFARLANE; Videography: SHAYNE GRAY; Grooming + Makeup: ANGELA LEE; Production Assistance and BTS Photography: BRIAN DE RIVERA SIMON; BTS Videography: SEAN SUTHERLAND; Talent Manager: BRIAN LEVINE; A special thank you to NORDSTROM CANADA, and CITIZEN WATCH GROUP for their support.
Originally published: October 5, 2021