Andre De Grasse on 'finally' winning gold, Usain Bolt, and the future of small-business owners

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·Editor, Yahoo Canada
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Andre De Grasse lies down on the track with his head in his hands after winning his first gold medal as an Olympian in Tokyo.
Andre De Grasse lies on the track after securing his first gold medal as an Olympian, becoming the first Canadian to win the men's 200m event since Percey Williams in 1928. (Credit: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)

Upon finishing the 200-metre men’s Olympic race in Tokyo, Andre De Grasse wasn’t his usual self. Known as the calm and collected Canadian sprinter, De Grasse’s emotions instead sent him to the ground, head in hands, moments after earning his first gold medal in an Olympic event.

“I've been working so hard for that moment. I felt like I always came up a little bit short,” said De Grasse to Yahoo Canada.

He’s proud of his other medal moments, too, having won five others in the colours of silver and bronze. Two of those also came in Tokyo, as he set a personal-best in the 100m on his way to bronze, and sprinted to a third-place finish in the 4x100m competition alongside his teammates.

“I also wanted to win gold. That was something I aimed for throughout these years,” said the Markham, Ont. native. “It’s just good to finally, finally win and bring home a gold medal.”

The 200m has become De Grasse’s strong suit. Known internationally for his burst of speed in the later stages of a race, it’s what has helped him outrun competitors, despite sometimes having a slower start.

The 200m gives him enough time to use that burst to his advantage, but improving his start has been a focus for De Grasse, so he doesn’t have to “try and track people down all the time.” This time, it was enough to help him also set a Canadian record with a 19.62-second performance.

His excellence in both the 100m and 200m, along with the slower start and late burst, have drawn comparisons to Usain Bolt, who won both those events in three consecutive Olympics before his retirement. This year, De Grasse was the only men’s sprinter to compete in both the men’s 100m and 200m finals.

De Grasse's time in the 200m final was even ultimately faster than Bolt's winning performance in Rio 2016 (19.78 seconds).

Not having Bolt in Tokyo was “a different experience,” says De Grasse, to go along with the fact that they were now racing in a stadium with no fans amid a pandemic. Over the years, before Bolt’s retirement, he and De Grasse had formed a special camaraderie, which some labelled a “bromance." At the moment, there are also talks between the two of hosting a biking class together.

When it comes to advice from Bolt, De Grasse says it’s mainly “to work on my start,” he says — noting it’s nothing he hasn’t heard before from coaches. Instead, what shines through for De Grasse are the words of encouragement, to go along with their “random” conversations about life.

“He’d tell me I'm talented and that I have a chance to do what he's done before, which is to win gold medals,” said De Grasse.

Usain Bolt and Andre De Grasse share a smile at the end of the 200m semifinal at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.
Usain Bolt and Andre De Grasse share a smile after the Canadian used his late burst to make the 200m semifinal interesting with the Jamaican legend at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. De Grasse would ultimately secure silver in those Games. (Credit: David Gray/Reuters).

At this point, De Grasse’s origin story has been well publicized. He was discovered at the age of 17, when he decided to join a 2012 high school track and field race after initially being asked by his friend to come and simply watch. De Grasse ran in basketball shorts (his preferred sport), borrowed spikes and started in a standing position, because he didn’t know how to use starting blocks.

He ultimately came in second, posting a time under the 11-second mark. It caught the attention of former Olympian and trainer Tony Sharpe, who was in the stands, and ultimately started his rise to stardom.

“I thought about that the other day when talking to my old coach. You reminisce a little bit of how far you’ve come. I don’t get to think about it a lot — it brings tears of joy,” said De Grasse. “But then I still always have people tell me, ‘You know, you’re not done here yet, you still have a lot more to accomplish.’”

I've been working so hard for that moment. I felt like I always came up a little bit shortAndre De Grasse on winning Olympic gold

De Grasse maintains a level of modesty and sense of reality. He still drives his Honda Accord, because “it’s good on gas” for when he goes to training and back. Instead, he’s “bought other people better cars,” with his mom owning a BMW and his wife — U.S. Olympian Nia Ali — a Mercedes.

Now, he’s looking forward to what’s next to accomplish, starting with a meet this weekend in Oregon as part of the Diamond League circuit.

De Grasse has also joined GoDaddy’s “Don’t Stop Being Unstoppable” initiative, which helps encourage small business owners to maximize their websites and online presence, as they maintain their resilience amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s what De Grasse says he tries to do as a small-business owner himself, but also with his training as a sprinter after struggling with injuries in 2017-18.

Along with the Andre De Grasse Family Foundation, he has a website hosted by GoDaddy for the business aspect of his children’s book “Race With Me”. He says it allows him to make the most of having an online shop, while maximizing the right marketing tools to connect with readers.

As part of the initiative, De Grasse filmed a commercial with other small-business owners. It gave him the opportunity to learn from them on how they’ve navigated their businesses throughout the pandemic.

“It's pretty cool to learn about this area because I feel like later on in my life that might be me,” said De Grasse on his future aspirations as a business owner.

The most crucial aspect De Grasse says he learned from the fellow business owners is the importance of communication. Either from making sure that there’s the right “word-of-mouth” to draw attention to a business, or to communicate among team members to understand and adapt to any situation.

De Grasse says communication was pivotal throughout the Olympic process, as everyone learned how to navigate a plethora of COVID-19 safety protocols. Without it, it wouldn’t be possible to go “out there with a purpose and perform, while trying to make our country and our family and friends proud.”

For De Grasse, his performances always stand out throughout the Olympic process, but it was also the camaraderie of coming together as Team Canada that made a difference. Throughout the year, and because of the pandemic, he says it’s been rare for everyone to come together. This time, it gave them the chance to catch up while “playing cards or dominoes,” explore the Olympic village, and watch other events.

For Canada, it was a historic Games, with the team ultimately finishing the Tokyo Olympics with 24 Olympic medals, the most in a non-boycotted Summer Games.

“As a country, we’re seeing other people's performances and we're getting inspired by that,” said De Grasse. “We're just getting better, we're just showing people that we belong on the world stage.”

Andre De Grasse of Canada poses as he celebrates on the podium after winning gold in the men's 200m event in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Andre De Grasse of Canada poses as he celebrates on the podium after winning gold in the men's 200m event in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (Credit: Dylan Martinez/Reuters)
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