It might seem like Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse amassed a career’s worth of medals during his meteoric rise.
But the 24-year-old from Markham, Ont., is back to remind everyone he’s not done yet.
After injuries derailed the better part of the past two seasons, De Grasse is healthy. He passed his first test unscathed by racing two relays for Canada last weekend in Florida, and will compete in the 200 metres at the Grenada Invitational on Saturday, his first individual event since the Canadian championships last summer.
He knows people will be scrutinizing his comeback.
“I don’t think I’m flying under the radar, I think people are waiting to see how I’m competing to see if I’m really back, for real,” De Grasse said. “Even when I went down to Florida … I could see some of my competitors were like ‘Oh, he’s back racing,’ or even just talking to other coaches, because it’s been awhile.
“I got a lot of support from people who were happy to see me back. And then you don’t know what the other people feel, like ‘Aw man, is he back for real-for real?’ Or ‘I hope he’s hurt still,”‘ he added, laughing. “It was kind of mixed messages from people, but overall people were saying ‘good job,’ and ‘looking forward to seeing you compete.”‘
De Grasse scaled the world rankings seemingly as fast as he runs, winning double Pan American Games gold in 2015, two bronze in his world championship debut, then a silver and two bronze in an entertaining battle with Usain Bolt at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
But his much-anticipated rematch with Bolt at the 2017 world championships never happened — he suffered a hamstring injury just days before.
Last season’s much-anticipated comeback was then shelved when he strained the same hamstring at the national championships.
Stepping back on the track this season wasn’t easy.
“There’s always a little bit of doubt,” he said. “I tried to clear my mind and be in a good mental space, because I have a new coach, new atmosphere, new environment, so I tried not to let the past kind of get to me, (but rather) say ‘Hey, I’ve been injured twice but now I’m working with somebody else, this person might do a great job with me, and keep me healthy.’
“I tried to keep that in the back of my mind, saying ‘I’m physically fine, but now it’s all about being mentally strong.”‘
WATCH | De Grasse injured at 2018 Canadian track and field championships:
If there were nerves about racing at the Florida Relays last weekend, he erased them by anchoring Canada’s 4×100-metre relay to victory. He followed it up by running a leg on Canada’s 4×200 relay, which also won gold.
“I’m happy and in a good place, and looking forward to see how I do when I open up the season (in Grenada),” he said.
Life is settling down after several changes last season. In December, De Grasse left coach Stuart McMillan and Phoenix to move to Jacksonville, Fla., to train with American coach Rana Reider.
“Every coach has their own philosophy so I had to not think about ‘Oh, I used to do this, I used to do that,”‘ De Grasse said. “I had to come with an open mind and try to just work hard and even if some things I probably thought ‘Oh, should I be doing this?’ or ‘I never used to do this,’ I just tried to block that out of my mind and just focus on what I can control and basically have good communication with my coaches, and say ‘Hey, this is how I’m feeling, this is working, this is not working.’
“It’s been quite an adjustment for me, but so far it’s been good.”
He also became a dad last June. His daughter Yuri is almost 10 months old.
“She hasn’t started walking yet, but on her way, probably by next month, because she’s just so active and always trying to move and grab things,” he laughed.
A year out from the Tokyo Olympics, it’s an important season on the track. The IAAF World Relays are May 12-13 in Yokohama, Japan. The world championships are Sept. 28 to Oct. 6 in Doha, Qatar.
He doesn’t feel like he has anything to prove to others.
“I have a lot of credentials, I’ve got Olympic medals, world championship medals,” he said.
But he has high expectations.
“I have a lot to prove to myself because I want to win a gold medal. That’s something I don’t have,” he said. “So yeah, I get messages from people saying ‘Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, you’ve done a lot, you’ve accomplished a lot in your career.’ But obviously I want to accomplish more.
“I’ve tried to still put that pressure on myself . . . even though I’ve had a couple of injuries and a couple of setbacks, I still want to go out there and compete. I’m still young. I feel like I have another at least two Olympics left in me, so definitely I try to put that pressure on myself to say that I can be better.”