Fan-favourite Andre De Grasse keeps studying -- for both his degree and on-track glory
Canadian Andre De Grasse wins gold in the 100-metre final at the CIBC Athletic Centre in Toronto on July 22, 2015. (Stan Behal/Toronto Sun)
Andre De Grasse took an elective called “stress management for healthy living” this semester while finishing up his sociology degree at the University of Southern California.
No offence to the professor, but the soft-spoken Canadian likely should have taught the class given his grace under fire at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.
The Olympic rookie walked away with silver in the men’s 200 metres, behind only Usain Bolt, along with bronze in the 100 metres and the 4 X 100 metre relay — all at the tender age of 21.
Is there a more stressful place on Earth than the starting blocks at the Olympic Games?
“I have way more things off the track that stress me out,” De Grasse told Postmedia in a break from studying for final exams in Los Angeles. “When I’m on the track, that’s when it’s easiest and where I don’t have to worry about a lot of things.
“When I’m off the track, that’s where everything gets complicated.”
Complicated just comes with the territory for the Markham, Ont. native in trying to balance life as a regular college kid with the reality of his world since breaking out in Rio.
Only five years ago, De Grasse didn't even know how to line up in the starting blocks as a wayward teen with no career plans beyond Grade 12 and returning for a victory lap year at Milliken Mills High School.
Now, a victory lap of a different kind continues to unfold for De Grasse after the success in Rio. The accolades just keep coming.
Earlier this month, the international track federation tagged the Canadian as the IAAF rising star for 2016. And then on Thursday, he was named the 2016 Air Canada athlete of the year – an award chosen online by the public with a prize of two business class tickets to anywhere the airline flies – along with Super Elite 100k status for one year.
Don’t expect to spot the heir apparent to Bolt in coach any time soon.
“It’s a fan-based award, so I really appreciate all the fans who voted for me,” said De Grasse, who hasn’t yet decided whether to give the tickets to his family or go somewhere himself. “It’s a really great feeling to have that many fans adore me.”
Adore is not an exaggeration. Having just turned 22 last month, De Grasse is already the only Canadian to have won three sprinting medals at a single Olympics.
One last showdown looms with Bolt for 100 and 200-metre supremacy next summer at the final world championship appearance in London for the Jamaican legend.
Perhaps De Grasse can use some of the lessons from his stress management course to help wrestle the baton from the king.
“They teach us a lot of breathing exercises,” De Grasse said. “I guess when you get stressed out a lot, they try to tell you to make sure you breathe. So I learned a lot of techniques.
“I think one I’m really going to use a lot is the breath of fire. You breathe three seconds in and then exhale out. It’s pretty simple.”
What’s not simple is blending in on campus – even one as enormous as USC – after gracing the sports pages of every daily newspaper during the Rio Games.
Shy by nature, De Grasse tends to keep his head down and bounce from class to class.
“But it’s a pretty cool feeling,” he said. “I get asked for a lot of pictures and sign a couple autographs. So it’s been an enjoyable ride.”
The ride has only just begun for a rising star who signed an $11.25-million shoe contract with Puma a year ago and lived up to the billing in Rio.
But the first priority is writing his last final exams this week to fulfill a promise to his mother Beverly that he would get his university degree regardless of the medals or money in his bank account.
“In the beginning, after the Olympics were over, I really didn’t want to go back,” he admitted. “I was kind of hesitant. But now it’s almost over, I can look back and say it was worth it to get that degree.
“I know a lot of people acknowledge and respect that although I won three Olympic medals, they care more about me graduating and getting that degree.”
And if he feels stressed out this week in the exam room? Well, De Grasse can use the breath of fire — or the lessons from Rio — to see him through.