Many Olympians have spent the past month and a half relaxing and vacationing at the Tokyo Summer Games, hanging out with friends and family, and making attendance.
Canadian track star Andre de Grasse is getting around to it right now.
After winning a gold medal in the 200m event in Tokyo, and winning bronze medals in the 100m and 4x100m relay to become Canada’s most decorated male Olympian, de Grasse returned only with his partner and children at his home in Jacksonville. Had a brief reunion. Fla. Then the sprinter hit the road again and ended his best season yet.
After the Olympics, the sprinter won the 100 in 9.74 seconds in a wind-assisted 9.74 seconds at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore. Then they had a multitude of September podium finishes in Europe, including second-place results in the 100 and 200 at the Diamond League final in Zurich.
De Grasse made his way back to the Toronto area — where his mother Beverly still lives — and visited one of his alma maters this week.
News cameras surrounded the six-time Olympic medalist during a Thursday morning event with students at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, where he spent grades 9 and grade 10. His mother came along for the trip, as did a couple of his old high school friends. As de Grasse wound up his media scandal, a student asked the runner what his favorite cafeteria foods were during his days at McGivney.
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The 26-year-old got a kick out of the question.
“I definitely liked poutine here,” de Grasse told him with a laugh. “And I always had to have a chocolate chip cookie every day. Are they still here?”
“Yeah”, roared a group of still-hanging teenagers hoping to pose for a selfie with the Olympian.
Dressed in blue jeans and a baseball cap, de Grasse was at school to hand out a $25,000 check to Kids Help phone from his Andre de Gras Family Foundation. That money his race with me! Virtual Challenge, in which 3,000 kids across Canada ran outside weekly for eight weeks last spring. It was a ray of light for many people living through canceled sports and virtual school during the pandemic. Participants uploaded their videos and race times.
It was an idea presented to de Grasse about a year ago by 15-year-old Montrealer Jesse Briscoe and his father, Rob. Total strangers at the time, they reached out to their agent to ask if de Grasse would volunteer his celebrity power for his idea for the virtual running challenge, and help bring it to life online.
Brisco traveled from Montreal this week to stand with de Grasse and deliver a jumbo check inside the large domed sports facility next to the school. Well, McGivney’s students also participated in the challenge. Katherine Hay, president and CEO of KidsHelp Phone, said when accepting the money that it would be put to good use – contact with youth through her confidential healthcare increased by more than 140 percent from 2020 to 2021 as children grapple with the impact. There was an epidemic.
On this day, to welcome back de Grasse, the school had a rally-like atmosphere, filled with balloons and the school’s mascot – a magician. A steady stream of people spoke to congratulate him, including Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, who said de Grasse’s performance in Tokyo had “made everyone glued to our TV sets.”
Olympians competed before empty seats in Tokyo under heavy pandemic restrictions. Fans were banned, no family could attend and only the media watched the stands. De Grasse had seen the reaction of Canadians on social media, but he is now seeing it for himself.
“I can’t believe so many people were tuning in to watch. Sometimes I wondered ‘Are people watching this, because it’s like 6 in the morning’ [in Canada] And I’m running at night?’ After the students went back to the classroom, de Grasse said in an interview Thursday behind a mask. “It’s great to come home and hear people say they’re proud of me and ‘good job’ and ‘congratulations’. People will see me on the street or recognize me. It’s a great feeling to be home here.”
He won three medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics at the age of 21. In Tokyo, confiscating gold felt completely different.
“Yeah, it’s gold, you’re No. 1, the best in the world. I mean, it’s a different title isn’t it? You’re a champion,” he said. “Of course, I was happy and grateful that I had a bronze in my first Olympics. And Silver was there, but I always wanted more, and the people around me always said I was better than him. So I just wanted to prove to them and myself that I can do it. “
Conversing, de Grasse looked comfortably at a room with everyone looking at him, each waiting for his chance at some of his meditation, even at noon on his calendar. His departure for the program was also near.
He has grown from a sharp young kid with a flamboyant smile against Usain Bolt in 2016. In Tokyo, after five years overcoming injuries and doubts, he had grown up. This summer, he cemented his reputation as a competitor who goes down medals each time.
On television and social media, his brand has steadily grown with them, and he appears in commercials for a strong list of sponsors, from Go Daddy to Puma and Sobies, RW & Co. For Peloton and Gatorade.
The pressure of that expectation affects athletes in different ways. Looks like de Grasse likes it.
“I enjoy it. It’s great,” de Grasse said. “It’s great for people to think of me that way. I just enjoy the moment and try to be myself.”
He isn’t shy about articulating what he expects next for himself.
“It’s good that I won the 200m, but I also want to win the 100m gold, and also break the national record, so I can be the fastest Canadian ever,” de Grasse said. “I don’t like to call it arrogance or arrogance, just believing me and the people in my corner, like they believe in me. I believe in myself, but they believe in me so much.”
De Grasse always seems to be moving from behind in a race and wants to improve on his start.
“The guys in my corner, they’re like ‘Dude, if you just get your start together, just do it a little bit better and that’s the difference?’ ” he said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement. I don’t feel like I’ve reached my peak yet.”
First things first – he’s finally going on vacation in the coming weeks.
He would then return to Florida to train. He says his partner Nia Ali – the world champion in the 100m hurdles who competes for the United States – will also resume training next month, giving birth to her son in the spring. De Grasse said he would focus on the World Athletics Championships in 2022 and 2023, which will be used to prepare for the 2024 Paris Games.
“Paris may be my last Olympics, or it may not. Who knows?” De Grasse said. “I’ll be 29 so I feel like I still have some legs inside. So that’s going to be fun, right?”