Andre De Grasse, Canada’s fastest man
He is Canada’s fastest man. But when Andre De Grasse went step-for-step with Usain Bolt at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, he became one of the fastest men in the world.
—By Braydon Holmyard
At 22-years-old, the Markham, Ont. native took home three medals in his Olympic debut. He holds Canadian records in three of his four events: 200-metre, 4×100-metre relay and 4×200-metre relay. Now, he has the long-standing 100-metre record in his sights, and won’t stop running until he catches it.
I’ve got to know, where do you keep your Olympic medals? You probably think, “Oh he would keep them somewhere crazy,” but actually they’re just at my mom’s house.
Are they on display? No, not yet. We’re renovating the house so there’s a lot of things being moved. When we’re done we’ll probably put them up somewhere.
Can you pinpoint when you realized how fast you are and that you could be an Olympic medalist? In college it actually didn’t even hit me that I could be an Olympic medalist. I felt like I was still just below that. I think it kind of hit me when I turned professional. A lot of people were praising me and giving me respect saying I could be really good. You always have your friends and family and coaches telling you this, but when you start to hear it from your fans and see what’s going on around you, that’s when you realize, you’re really good – you could be really great. That’s when it kind of hit me. Especially when I’ve done races and the older guys, those who have won medals before me started telling me that. That’s when it gave me the confidence that I could be a world championship medalist or an Olympic medalist. It’s always skeptical at first but as time goes on it just hits you.
Speaking of hitting you, has it sunk in now that you are one of the elite runners in the world? It definitely has. Before it just felt kind of like a phase, or a dream maybe. But now I feel like I can be even better than the guys before me. That’s why I’m working so hard now. I’m trying to take down Bruny and Donovan’s Canadian record (in the 100-metre race). I want to beat that and then try to break the world record. That’s why a guy like Usain (Bolt) giving me advice and telling me that I can be great, that’s big, especially because he’s the G.O.A.T. of track and field. It’s just an awesome feeling.
How would you describe your relationship with Usain? It’s a competitive relationship, but we work for the same company. So we always see each other, joke around and have fun when it comes to the events. It’s cool to talk to him and see how far he’s progressed in his career, from being like a nobody to becoming a nine-time Olympic champion. He tells me the stuff he did before and after, it’s kind of cool to hear his side of the story.
What was it like when you were swarmed at the airport on your return from Rio? I definitely didn’t expect that. I had just woken up from the flight, I think it was 5 a.m. and I was still trying to open my eyes. All I’m thinking about is going to my bed and going to sleep. I was so tired from the Olympics. Then I would go see my family and friends later on when I woke up. I definitely didn’t expect to come off the plane and come through the front door and all of a sudden I see my mom, I see a couple other people I know as well. Then they were like ‘Oh, you’ve got all these interviews’. I didn’t think people were going to wake up that early to do that. I was just like, “Wow, okay here we go.”
You played a lot of team sports growing up, track must be a very different feeling, how would you describe being out on the track all on your own? It’s a totally different feeling compared to other team sports. It’s really all a mental thing when it comes down to it. Your coach, your family, friends, everybody who supports you can only say so much to you. But at the end of the day when you get on that line, you’re there by yourself. You just have to tell yourself mentally that you’re prepared. The people around you have prepared you for this moment, so now it’s all about going out there and focusing and executing that. For me it’s all a mental thing. Track and field is a tough sport mentally, it’s different than basketball or soccer or baseball. I have to take a lot of breaks. It’s kind of a weird thing, but I can’t focus on track 24/7. I have to have other things on my mind. I think I would go crazy if I just had to focus on track. When I did other sports I never thought like that because you’re always around a group of guys who make you laugh and someone can always pick up the slack for you. Track is a different ball game.
With all those people watching you, especially in Rio, what are the nerves like before? I think I feel the most nerves when I’m in the call room. When you’re waiting, that 20 to 25 minutes before you get into the stadium, that’s where the nerves come out a little bit. It’s not bad nerves, I feel like it’s good nerves because everyone gets nervous. Even the greatest get nervous sometimes. It’s all about controlling those nerves and saying, “I’ve been here before, it’s just another race.” I kind of just switch on as soon as they call us and we get into that stadium. I just stop thinking about all the other things and I just focus on what I need to do. That’s what helps me in my races. Before I got to this level I thought like that, where I’d get too nervous to compete. As time went on I kind of got to that level where I can just do it.
In those 20 minutes waiting in the call room, is there anything you do to distract yourself? That’s a tough question because I probably do have a routine but I don’t even remember it. It’s something you don’t want to remember; you just feel it. It’s a feeling moment. I kind of don’t even think about it until after the race is over, and I think what happened, what did I do?
Is long-distance running a part of a sprinter’s training? I think it depends on every person, but for me it’s not. I like to do short bursts, but I think it depends on what type of athlete you are. Longer stuff is if you need help with endurance and to finish the race. When it comes to Olympics or world championships, you have to run heats, semifinals and finals so you have to be in pretty good shape to do that. For me, I don’t like to do anything past 200-metres. My lungs and legs can’t handle it.
How much time do you put in the gym? I actually just started getting into the gym this year. After the Olympics we saw some flaws where I could have done better and needed to develop more strength. So now I’m in the gym four times a week — two days I’m working on upper-body and two days I’m working on lower-body. I have another day where I work on core stuff, too. So now I’m actually going to weigh more than the previous Games. I’m finding it really tough to do that because I’m so weak, but I’m getting the hang of it and I’m enjoying the process.
It’s a long season, when you find yourself getting tired, what do you use as motivation to keep pushing? Motivation. The people around me motivate me a lot. I try to motivate myself too. I listen to music a lot. I listen to a lot of hip-hop and R&B. Usually when I’m in my zone I know what I need to do. Of course a lot of things are going to motivate you in life. You want to get this or that, so you’ve got to go out there and do it, especially if you want to be the best. When you want to be the best, when you want to be great, it’s not really hard to motivate yourself.
Congratulations on getting your degree, especially because it’s not something you had to do. What was the decision-making process there? I had my mom and a lot of people telling me to finish my degree but at the same time, a lot of people can tell you that and you still may not want to do it. I had to tell myself that I really want to finish because after track is over, I don’t know what I want to do and it’s always good to have that back-up. I always wanted to get that school experience where you have those moments with your friends and say “yeah, I went to this school” because I went to one of the greatest colleges. It felt like I only went to USC for one year. I wanted to go back and enjoy that part of my life. I wanted to do it now because I don’t think I would want to do it when I got in my thirties or after track was over.
What are you preparing for and what are your goals for this year? We’ve got world relays coming up next month in the Bahamas, I’m going to go down to a camp in Florida with the relay guys and we’re going to prepare for that. After that I’ll start running at the diamond league circuit. One of my goals is I want to break the Canadian record in the 100-metre. Then I’ll get ready for the world championship in London and try and bring home a gold. That’s what I want to do.
You really have that record on your mind, don’t you? Yeah, that’s the last one I need.
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