Photo above: Andre De Grasse celebrates his win for USC with a wind assisted time of 9.75 — one of the fastest times ever run in the 100m. Photo credit: www.thetimesunion.com.
By Lekan Afolabi
PRIDE Sports Columnist
For most great athletes, there is a point early in their lives or careers when someone tells them they are good enough to go far in sports. For Andre De Grasse, that moment came shortly after his basketball hopes were dashed due to his team folding up at Milliken Mills High School in Markham. Although basketball was his first love, De Grasse explains why he stuck with track.
“I think my coach, Tony Sharpe, him saying I could be great in the sport [track and field]… I don’t think anybody has ever really told me that … he told me I could be great, I could go to the Olympics and do great things. So I think that kind of stuck out to me and that’s why I kind of just stuck in the sport and continued to excel in it.”
The decision to give track and field an honest try has really paid off. At just 20 years old, Canadian sprinter De Grasse is making headwinds?
In a sport where athletes like Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, Yohan Blake and Justin Gatlin are the odds-on-favorites to take podium spots at most international track competitions. The IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China – in late August of this year – will be no exception to this potential outcome. De Grasse, though, is gearing up to play the role of spoiler as he gets prepared for the World Championships. Although he has his sights set on the Worlds, he also is looking forward to competing at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games.
There is a very good reason why De Grasse is considered a contender who can possibly run with the best runners in the world. De Grasse, a junior representing the University of South California (USC), recently ran 100m in 9.75 seconds and then less than an hour later, ran the 200m in 19.58 seconds. These were two of the fastest times in history, under any conditions.
The NCAA Championships were his and the wind assisted times (the legal maximum 2.0 meters/second – De Grasse’s times were aided by tailwinds of 2.7 and 2.4 meters/second respectively) put him into an arena which, as a Canadian, was only last occupied by Bruny Surin; the last Canadian to run the 100m in less than 10.00 seconds.
How impressive was it to run two races that fast, with just about an hour of rest in-between? The answer to this is best illustrated in this tweet by Ato Boldon, the former World Champion and four-time Olympic Medalist from Trinidad:
“I have six, so I say this freely. That NCAA one-day double, given his age and the recovery, is the best by any sprinter – at any level.”
Such high praise and admiration is only the beginning of all the attention De Grasse has been getting since his accomplishments at the NCAA Championships. In a media teleconference, De Grasse seemed to be aware of what he needs to do from here on out, especially when it comes to eventually racing against Bolt and others:
“I’ve just got to put my mind to it and feel confident that I can go out there and beat these guys. I can’t be afraid of them just because they are gold medalists. I have to go out there and try to make a name for myself as well.”
According to an IAAF report on De Grasse’s performance, his “performances in Eugene have only been bettered by seven men in the 100m and five men in the 200m. It is also the fastest one-day sprint double in history.”
In what has been an amazing year of record breaking performances for De Grasse – he also set both the indoor and outdoor records in the 200m earlier this year –the crowning moment happened as he was named NCAA Male Track Athlete of the Year.
All this and yet it is still very early in what is expected to be a long and illustrious career. There is a justified buzz around De Grasse, the type you see when success brings attention, demands and expectations. When your name is being mentioned as the one who can compete with the likes of Bolt, Gatlin and Blake; that you are the best chance of putting Canadian sprinting back on the map since the days of the great Donovan Bailey and the aforementioned Surin – that is when the pressure mounts.
All these expectations and presumed pressure does not seem to be too much for De Grasse:
“…I don’t have no pressure in this sport. I’m just having fun and, you know, coach Caryl [USC track and field coach, Caryl Smith Gilbert] tells me to just go out there and have fun…”
Next month, De Grasse will be on home soil as he competes for Canada at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games. This will be the first time that he will be running in front of his family, here in Toronto.
His laidback demeanour definitely compliments his self-confidence and it adds to the appeal of a young track star who is ready to take on the world’s best track athletes. He exuded that self-confidence in this statement:
“I feel I can be competitive with this guys. I mean, I just have to put my mind to it and feel confident that I can go out there and beat this guys … I have to go out there and make a name for myself as well.”
For those who do not follow track and field, the Pan Am Games will surely be his coming out party. For the rest of the world, the World Championships in Beijing is where he hopes to make his name known.
For De Grasse, making a name for himself could happen in less than 9.75 seconds.