Andre De Grasse on Toronto Rap, Harry Potter, and the Quest for Olympic Gold

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Image via Getty/ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP

“I’m not that kid anymore,” says Canadian track star Andre De Grasse.

The 26-year-old is reflecting on how life has changed since his epic run at the 2016 Rio Games, when he became the first Canuck athlete to win Olympic medals in all three sprint events. There were the two bronzes in the 100 metres and the 4x100-metre relay, respectively, and the silver in the 200. There was also his undeniable bromance with Usain Bolt, summed up by the now-iconic grins the Jamaican sprint legend and then-21-year-old flashed each other while crossing the finish line in 200-metre semifinal. The moment launched a thousand memes, and instantly sealed De Grasse’s status as the next fastest man up.

Five years later, things look a lot different for the Markham, Ontario native. De Grasse married Nia Ali—the U.S.’ reigning world-champion hurdler—and had two kids. His career was momentarily derailed by hamstring injuries, robbing him of a final duel with Bolt at the 2017 world championships. Speaking of Bolt, the friendship between the two apparently hasn’t aged well, with the eight-time gold medalist hinting he felt “disrespected” when the Canadian pushed him in the Rio semifinals. Regardless, now healthy, Andre is the face of Canadian track. And that face is everywhere, from magazine covers to Gatorade bottles to Cheerios boxes. He’s as household name as they come.

“I feel like I’m more busy now,” he says. “When I first got into the sport, I was just focused on track. Now, I’ve gotta balance a lot more things, whether it’s fatherhood or sponsors or doing commercials and PR and all those other things. I’m just trying to balance my life in that way. I have more obligation, more responsibility.”

More responsibility is right—as the Tokyo Olympics near, not only is he carrying the weight of Canada on his back, he’s now faced with the pressure of living up to his own name. All the hype that’s been building around De Grasse over the last half-decade has been leading up to this: his chance to lay claim to the title of fastest man on the planet. With Bolt now retired, the crown is within his grasp.

But Andre’s not stressing. When we chat prior to his trip to Tokyo, he’s all laughs, more than happy to chop it up about non-Olympic matters, from Netflix movies to video game characters to underground hip-hop. Talk to anyone close to De Grasse and they’ll tell you that’s his secret weapon: his ability to brush off the nerves, drown out the noise, and have fun in the moment. While he may be a grown-ass man, he’s still a kid at heart. He runs with a flawless stride because no one’s been able to break it.

In our wide-ranging conversation, De Grasse talks about, well, everything: Harry Potter, Kobe Bryant, Toronto’s hip-hop scene, and his desire to bring Olympic gold back to Canada. The interview, edited and condensed for clarity, is below.

I know basketball was your first love. Who was your hoop hero growing up?
Kobe had a huge impact on me. I’ve watched him since I was a kid. I remember I always used to watch those NBA Hardwood Classics, watching Kobe versus Allen Iverson, because he was one of my favorite players too. I used to model my game after AI, so that was always a cool series to watch. And then, of course, as Kobe got older, I just kept watching him play. He’s my guy, man. I mean, I’m in this generation with LeBron, and I like LeBron too, but Kobe’s just a different animal.

So, at what point did you realize basketball wasn’t your thing and running actually was?
I think when I stopped growing, to be honest. [Laughs.] I was kind of the same height that I am now when I was in high school. Back then that was a good height, but after that you gotta grow for college. It’s hard to take it to the next level at 5’10. Once I realized, Damn, I’m not going to be six feet, the hoop dream was pretty much over for me. So I was like, Alright, track is going good. I’m running pretty good times, like Olympic times. Once I figured out it was a lot easier for me to get a scholarship for track than basketball, I kinda just ran with it.

Ran with it! Literally.
[Laughs.] Yeah, yeah, literally. They offered me a scholarship and I was like, Well, I guess I’m going to the U.S. I’m out of here.

Andre de Grasse Puma
Image via Jayne Kamin-Oncea for Getty Images

Can you pinpoint the moment when you were like, Oh fuck, I can really run! I’m really good at this.
Yeah, definitely. [Laughs.] I mean, shoot, it was probably when I got a second scholarship to go out to Division I at USC. I remember watching USC for basketball—those guys had ballers like O.J. Mayo, DeMar DeRozan, Nick Young, all these top players. And I was like, Damn, they recruited me for track. This is crazy! And then you watch the movie Love & Basketball and all those things. I took a visit out there and that’s when I realized, Man, I can really take this far because I feel like I shouldn’t be here right now. Like, damn, I’m in L.A! I’m living the dream over here. I was like, This is it for me. If you made it this far to get here, then you could probably get a professional career out of this. That’s when I realized I could go far in this.

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That’s cool, man! Pressa’s definitely been having a good run. He seems on the verge of blowing up.
Yeah. Pressa’s a guy I used to listen to when no one knew him, when he was super underground. I like listening to a lot of stuff like that because now I see the progress, now they’re starting to blow up, now they’re starting to make songs that are on the radio. It’s just a cool feeling. I knew [Pressa] as a friend of a friend. Your friends are always telling you of friends of friends, and they’re like, “Oh, did you hear this guy’s music? He’s going to be nice! He’s going to be good in a couple of years. Better know who he is!” [Laughs.]

This is a good segue, because you’ve kinda been blowing up too. Over the last five years, you’ve pretty much reached household name status. People know your face. Everyone knows who you are—you’re Andre De Grasse, Canada’s Olympic superstar. So, I’m wondering, going into Tokyo, do you at all feel pressure to live up to this name you’ve made for yourself?
Umm, yeah, I guess. But I mean, I like the pressure. I like being able to live up to expectations. I like to prove myself and I like to keep getting better. I like being in that spotlight, the bright lights, because this has never happened to me before. So it’s cool. [Laughs.] It’s cool to be in that situation. I wanna just try to deliver. It’s what I work hard every day for, train six days a week for. I work hard to deliver in that situation where I can make myself proud, make my family proud, make my country proud. I mean, of course there’s going to be pressure. But I know what to expect. I’ve dealt with pressure before, multiple times. I felt it when I won the Pan Am Games in Toronto and then was able to make history and become the first Canadian sprinter to win three Olympic medals [in a single Games]. So, I think I’m just used to that. I love trying to deliver in that moment. I don’t let the pressure get to me, I just embrace it.

So you feed off the pressure. You feast on it!
Yeah, it just helps me. It feels like a Game 7. You just want to be in that scenario—a win-or-go-home type of thing. I like being in that moment because when there’s nothing on the line, it’s kinda hard to get motivated. When there’s something on the line, I feel like I thrive off of that. It’s like when you make a bet with a friend—you just wanna win that bet! [Laughs.] So I thrive off the feeling of like, OK, the reward is going to be huge if I kill this. That’s what I hope for and dream for. When the stakes are high, will you fold or will you perform?

Well, hopefully you channel Kawhi in Game 7 versus Philly.
Yeah! [Laughs.] Or I’d say I wanna channel Kobe, man. That Mamba mentality. That’s how I look at it. I guess when he played the Boston Celtics in 2010… That one went to Game 7, right? Hold up, let me look this up. [Googles the game on his phone.] Yeah, it did. That was a good series. I’d channel that.

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