NEW YORK — The last time Andre De Grasse ran a 60-metre sprint here, he was just another kid competing at the National Junior College Athletic Association championships. For all but the deepest of track insiders, he was an unknown Canadian in one of America’s lower tiers of collegiate competition.
That was two years ago.
Now the 21-year-old from Markham, Ont., is a headliner at the Millrose Games, one of the world’s most prestigious indoor meets.
That’s what a spectacular season of blistering fast 100- and 200-metre races, two world championship bronze medals and an $11-million (U.S.) contract with Puma can do.
This is De Grasse’s first meet as a professional and his stock is already so high that on Thursday he faced questions from American media about whether the 100 or the 200 was his best shot to beat world-record holder Usain Bolt.
“That’s a tough question,” De Grasse replied. “Everyone says I’m a 200-metre runner,” he said, before trailing off because that’s what everyone says about Bolt, too.
“Maybe in six months I can answer that question,” he said, smiling.
It wasn’t so very long ago that De Grasse couldn’t have imagined even being asked that question.
“I definitely didn’t expect for it to come this quick,” he said of the star treatment he has been getting since his double sprint gold at the Pan Am Games last summer, followed up with bronze medals in the 100 and 4x100 relay at worlds.
He’s not just the revival of Canadian sprinting now. With each new success, De Grasse knows he is increasingly being seen as the heir apparent to Bolt, a fellow Puma athlete who is winding down his career.
“I thought I still had to develop a bit more, but now I’m here and there’s a lot of expectations and I’ve got to go out there and do my best and perform. It’s actually fun at the same time. I’m a fan of hard work and, if I do that, anything is possible.”
His combination of natural talent and work have already taken him from his high school in Markham to university in Los Angeles (via junior college in Kansas) and, most recently, to a new training base in Arizona where he will prepare for the Rio Olympics.
The changes in his life haven’t all been geographic.
With details of his Puma contract — one of the most lucrative in track and field — being made public, he has found that doors open more easily to him but that he’s also left wondering about the motivations of others.
“It’s good and bad,” he said.
“You get to meet other superstars.”
De Grasse was in Toronto for the NBA all-star weekend and, before that, in Jamaica shooting a commercial with Bolt and Asafa Powell.
“You don’t know who is your friend and who wants something from you. Now that my salary is published, you don’t know how to separate who’s real friends and who’s fake friends,” he said.
What doesn’t seem to have changed at all is his relaxed and humble attitude.
When asked at the Millrose Games opening press conference if he would win Saturday’s 60 metre race, just as Canadian sprint greats Donovan Bailey and Bruny Surin did in the late ’90s, he didn’t want to put himself in the same category.
“I’ll be honest, it’s not my best event,” he said.
De Grasse’s speed builds as the race goes on but there’s not much time for that in a race as short as the 60. But he has been working on his starts out of the blocks and says he’s better than he’s ever been.
The last time he was on the Armory track, he won the 2014 American junior college championships 60-metre race in 6.71 seconds but he’ll need more speed than that to medal in this field — and to give himself a shot to compete at the world indoor championships in Portland, Oregon next month.
“I feel like this is a good test, we’ll see what happens,” he said.
“This meet will determine a lot.”