Andre De Grasse has had a busy year. The Tokyo Olympic cancellation in 2020 was admittedly difficult for the sprinter at first but the brief reset may have been the magic recipe he didn’t know he needed.
“I really just took time to be with my family. I didn’t really focus on my sport as much,” he explained in the weeks leading up to the 2021 Olympics.
The 26-year-old set a Canadian record and personal best in the 200-metre final on Wednesday at Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, clocking in at 19.62 seconds and bringing home his first gold medal.
“All I do is train and that’s my job. That’s what I make a lot of sacrifices on,” De Grasse said. “It was good to really get that reset button and take my mind off it, to focus on the important things and things that I always wanted to do that I never would get a chance to do.”
From welcoming a new son with partner Nia Ali in June to now cementing his legacy in gold amongst all-time sprinting greats, the father of two is doing what he set out to: leave a legacy of hard work for his children.
“They have no idea what I do. Maybe when they get older, they’ll understand. I’m Dad to them, I’m a nobody. I just try to just leave a legacy where I can show them all the hard work that I’ve done, to be the best athlete I could be or the best version of myself,” he said.
While the decorated sprinter has won a medal in every event he’s competed in at both the Rio and Tokyo Olympics, gold always seemed just out of reach. His win marks the first time in 93 years a Canadian man has won the 200m since 1928 when Percy Williams podiumed in Amsterdam — and it’s the third time in the history of the Olympics a Canadian has captured the gold medal in the event.
A recent partnership with fellow Canadian-powerhouse ENDY could not have come at a better time where rest and recovery are going to be paramount following the games—and with a newborn at home. ”I have kids, and training, in order to recover for the next day of training, I need to get as much sleep as possible. It was really good for me to team up with ENDY with this initiative,” he said.
We caught up with the Olympic Champion to discuss the partnership, how he was preparing for the games, and what family means to him.
What was your initial reaction when the games were cancelled last year?
A lot of people always assume that you’re training toward the next four years for the next Olympic games, but we have a lot of competitions in between. I just take it one year at a time, training for those competitions. But [they all] help me lead towards the Tokyo games.
Of course, having the games canceled, it was really a sad moment. At the time I really didn’t understand what was going on in the world. I didn’t know how serious it was. But then when I realized, maybe a week later, in August, the COVID-19 pandemic is really, really serious. I understand why they canceled the games now. People are getting sick. People are dying, this is getting really real. My initial reaction was sad and then of course after that, I was like, I don’t even care [about the cancellation]. It doesn’t matter. There are way bigger things to focus on.
How did you channel a positive attitude during the pandemic?
I really just took time to be with my family. I didn’t really focus on my sport as much. I didn’t think it was that important at the time. I took the time to go back and be with my parents, be with my family and my daughter, just enjoy the moments with them.
When everything opened back up, that’s when it was kind of like a good reset button for me, mentally, I guess. Now all I do is train and that’s my job. That’s what I make a lot of sacrifices on. It was good to really get that reset button and just take my mind off it, to focus on the important things and things that I always wanted to do that I never would get a chance to do. I think it was towards the end of 2020, that’s when we started getting access back to our facilities and being able to work out again and those types of things. I was able to go back and focus on my sport again.
As a father with a young daughter and a new baby, has that changed your sleep schedule?
My daughter’s about to be three now, she doesn’t get up in the middle of the night anymore, but, of course with the new baby it’s super important for myself and for Nia to be able to still try to get some good sleep. I need at least 10 hours of sleep to function. I have kids, and training, in order to recover for the next day of training, I need to get as much sleep as possible. It was really good for me to team up with ENDY with this initiative. I was looking for a mattress and sometimes mattresses are hit or miss, depending on what you’re looking for. I got a chance to work it in, fell right asleep like a baby. I really enjoy the partnership with them from the charity standpoint as well.
What lesson are you taking away from this in terms of balancing training and family life?
It’s definitely tough, but I have a lot of support from my family and my friends. Especially my mom and her mom. We have a lot of support. Even when my daughter was young, in 2019 I had to go to the World Championship in Qatar and Doha Qatar. We had them to help with the kids. That was really good for us, so we could focus on our training, as we were training at the time in Germany for a couple of months to just adjust and get with the time zone, with no distraction. It was really good to have that in our corner.
With the upcoming games, what are you most looking forward to?
That’s a tough question. Of course, I’m looking forward to competing and being able to run on a track, but I really don’t know what to expect this year because of COVID. The last Olympics, it was so different. We were able to leave the village, to be able to interact with each other in the village, go out of the village, go sightseeing and go see the city. There were so many things that you could have done at the last Olympics in Rio Brazil, but I know at this one there is going to be a lot more restrictions and we’re not going to be able to do much or interact with each other. On the track, I’m just expecting to do well and win Olympic medals. I try my best to really just enjoy it and make the best of it.
Does it feel different this time going in having gone to Rio 2016 and having had the success that you had, do you feel more pressure or more relieved?
I’m not sure. I haven’t thought about it that much. I felt like there was a lot of pressure the first time going in. I don’t know if the pressure is going to be more this time or it’s going to be the same or it’s going to be less because I now have more experience. It’s kind of a question I feel like I can answer when it’s all said and done. As of right now, I feel good. I feel healthy. I feel like I’m ready to go. I’m just looking forward to it, to try to just enjoy that experience as much as I can.
To put on the uniform, it's the best thing ever because you're not just representing yourself, you're representing your country, you’re representing all your family, your friends, it's just really an amazing feeling.
What does it mean to you to represent Canada on the global stage?
It’s a great feeling. To put on the uniform, it’s the best thing ever because you’re not just representing yourself, you’re representing your country, you’re representing all your family, your friends, it’s just really an amazing feeling. I remember the first time I put it on as a teenager, I was just so excited, to get the uniform, get all this kit and be able to just put it on and represent it, represent a whole nation, a whole country. It’s just the greatest feeling in the world to be able to do that, and show that on TV and show everybody. I always have family ask me like ‘Can you give me some of the kit?’ So if I have some extra leftover, I might, you know, put them up after it was over. It’s just a great feeling to just add that because you’re just not representing yourself, you’re representing a whole country. That’s just the best thing in the world for me.
Do you have an Olympics routine? Does it change when you're in the zone for a big event like that?
I try to stick to the same routine. We compete at nighttime, I’ll just go to sleep late, wake up almost towards the afternoon, maybe just before lunch starts, I’ll try to still get breakfast. I kind of just chill all day. I’ll watch Netflix, listen to music. Recently now, I FaceTime the kids. Those types of things. I just try to take my mind off of the race a little bit because I think it would drive me crazy if I’m just thinking about it all day. I try to stay mellow, relaxed and do ordinary things that I would do. Later on in the day, don’t forget to eat, hydrate, drink lots of water. Get treatment right before like a massage or any type of therapy before I head to the track. I mean, it’s been working for me, so, I try not to do anything different. The most important thing is really just kind of be in bed all day, to be honest, like don’t really move around as much because you don’t want to tire yourself out before a race
What kind of legacy to leave behind for your kids on the world stage like this?
It’s so funny that you asked that because they have no idea what I do. Maybe when they get older, they’ll understand.
I’m Dad to them, I’m a nobody. I just try to just leave a legacy where I can show them all the hard work that I’ve done to be the best athlete I could be or the best version of myself. To show them all the hard work that it takes in whatever they want to pursue. Whether it’s sports or whatever career they want to want to go down, but just to show them that I did my best, doesn’t even have to really be like medals, but just to show that I did it at the highest level possible. I worked my butt off to be in the position I am today and be the best version of me.
I just want to try to leave that as a lesson to them, that whatever they want to pursue, that they just give it 110 percent. I doubt they’re going to want to do track, but maybe they will. I mean, they haven’t shown me any signs of that yet but maybe down the road they might want to do that or they want to do another sport or maybe they don’t even want anything to do with sport or they want to pursue something else. Whatever they do, just to give 110 percent. I hope they’re just proud of me, for what I’ve done and they can look back at some videos and enjoy. We’ll see if they even like it or not, they might be like, ‘Uh, I don’t care, daddy, what you do is whatever.’