With renewed focus on health, De Grasse sees track worlds as chance to rejoin elite
Andre De Grasse became a household name in 2016, sprinting his way to three Olympic medals after signing a multi-year deal worth $ 11.25 million US with Puma the previous year. By 2017, the 21-year-old was caught up in the fame of being Canada’s latest sporting hero.
He was going out a lot, not getting much sleep and then his eating habits began to change, with stops at the local drive-thru becoming more frequent when he was travelling for competitions.
With De Grasse in less than top shape, injuries followed, including a strained right hamstring during a training run just days before the start of the 2017 track and field world championships in London. His 2018 season ended in July when he re-injured the hamstring at the Canadian championships.
“I had to change,” De Grasse recalls, as he prepares to run the 100 and 200 metres as well as the 4×100 men’s relay at the upcoming world championships in Doha, Qatar. “I probably took a lot for granted but this was my job now. I couldn’t be slacking and I definitely didn’t want to keep getting injured. I had to play a better role [in my health].”
The injuries played a part in splitting from Canadian coach Stu McMillan of the Phoenix-based ALTIS training group last fall and moving to Jacksonville, Fla., to work with American sprint guru Rana Reider, who has helped De Grasse regain confidence and lower his times to near-personal-best levels.
WATCH | De Grasse’s comeback from hamstring injuries:
Follow three-time Olympic medallist Andre De Grasse’s road to recovery, after tearing his hamstring days before the 2017 World Championships. 5:34
Nowadays, De Grasse either prepares his own meals or his girlfriend Nia Ali and his mother, when she pays a visit, will cook for him.
11 individual podium finishes in 2019
“I take a lot more things seriously now,” he says, citing his improved sleep habits, nutrition, recovery from races, staying hydrated and regular physiotherapy treatments. “I’m not eating out as much or snacking on junk food.
“I had to sacrifice some things and not be out late so I was ready for the next training day.”
De Grasse returned to the track for his first 100 race of 2019 on May 21 and ran 10.09 seconds to finish second at the Nanjing World Challenge in China. He has remained healthy and reached the podium in five of his seven races in the 100 and all six times running the 200, with his season bests of 9.97 and 19.87, respectively, close to his personal bests (9.91/19.80) accomplished at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
WATCH | Andre De Grasse sets 9.97-second season-best:
Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse clocks a season-best time of 9.97 seconds to finish 1st. 1:02
De Grasse believes he can establish new personal bests in Doha, where he will try to carry the momentum from a “consistent” 9.97 performance on Sept. 1 at the Berlin World Challenge.
“All my starts this season have been shaky and I haven’t been able to get out with the field,” De Grasse says, “but I was able to get out of the [starting] blocks well and maintain my speed.
He has been quite consistent lately coming out of the blocks. … I like his confidence and where he’s at.— CBC Sports track analyst Donovan Bailey on sprinter Andre De Grasse
“I just have to stay patient and when I hear the [starter’s] gun just react and push. If I do that, I’ll be in the mix [for a medal].”
Donovan Bailey, who won the men’s 100 final at the 1996 Olympics in world-record time, believes De Grasse has the potential to reach the podium “and even win” in Doha.
“He knows how to put himself in position to make the final and leave it all out on the track,” says the CBC Sports track analyst. “He has been quite consistent lately coming out of the blocks, transitions well and relaxes [in the final metres] of the race. I like his confidence and where he’s at.”
American Christian Coleman, having posted a 9.81 world-leading time this season on June 30 at the Prefontaine Classic, is the favourite in Doha. But he hasn’t run the 100 since his victory at the U.S. championships on July 26 and recently faced a possible sanction for three “whereabouts failures” over a 12-month period before the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency dropped his case for missed doping tests on a technicality.
WATCH | Canadian moments to remember from track & field worlds:
From Donovan Bailey, to Perdita Felicien, to Andre De Grasse, Canada has had flashes of glory at the track and field world championships. 3:03
“We’ll see how he handles the pressure,” Bailey says, “especially after the recent bad publicity. We’ll see how strong psychologically he is. If he knows he wasn’t guilty, he can forget about what happened.”
Reigning world champion and fellow American Justin Gatlin has the fourth fastest time this year at 9.87 but he pulled up with a suspected left hamstring or thigh injury on Sept. 3 at the Zagreb World Challenge in Croatia and might not be at full health in Qatar.
Two-time reigning Canadian champion Aaron Brown, who clocked 9.96 in the semifinals at the national championships in July, is also in the field that features 2011 world champion Yohan Blake, Akani Simbine, Zharnel Hughes, Adam Gemili and 2019 NCAA gold medallist Divine Oduduru as medal contenders.
WATCH | Aaron Brown defends Canadian 100m title, beating De Grasse:
Aaron Brown edged Andre De Grasse in a photo finish to capture his second consecutive 100-metre title at the Canadian track and field championships. 0:21
“I think Aaron needs to run as relaxed as he did in the semifinals at nationals,” says Bailey. “I find sometimes in the Diamond League he’s quite stiff and just needs to get out of the blocks and run the track like he owns it.
“He probably could have run 9.90 or faster at Canadian championships, but I don’t want him putting too much pressure on himself or getting too nervous that he can’t achieve that.”
De Grasse, who clocked 19.87 in his most recent 200 to place third at the Diamond League Final in Brussels, spent much of his training working on his start.
“My speed is there so I have to make sure I’m holding my form and accelerating properly,” he says. “I think I relaxed too much on the bend [in Brussels] and let [Noah] Lyles and [Ramil] Guliyev get away from me and I had to come back at the end.
“I have to try not to fall asleep at that point in the race, hit the gas and hold my form coming into the straightaway.”