It has been nearly a century since a Canadian won a gold medal at the Olympics in the 200-metre race, but hours after Andre De Grasse ended that drought perhaps his biggest supporter is reflecting on his journey to get to the top of the podium.
“I’m super, super proud and I’m super, super excited. I feel like I’m on a high and I don’t know how to come down,” Beverley De Grasse, Andre’s mother, told reporters at her Pickering home on Wednesday.
“Even though like I was expecting it, it was just still so surreal to really witness it, well, at least over the television.”
The 26-year-old from Markham, Ont., won with a time of 19.62 seconds, breaking the Canadian record he had set just a day before in the semifinal. Kenneth Bednarek of the U.S. came in second with a time of 19.68, and another American, Noah Lyles, took bronze with a time of 19.74 seconds.
Wednesday’s gold medal is De Grasse’s second medal at these Olympics. He won the bronze in the 100-metre race.
Normally an ardent fan in the stands, Beverley, like so many family members these Games, was forced to watch the competitions in Canada due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“That was the most difficult I think for me as a mom this year not being in Tokyo. Every time I hear there’s a case of COVID in the athletes’ village, it just like makes me cringe. I always say, ‘Be careful, wear your mask, make sure you clean your hands,’ and stuff like that,” she said.
“I don’t want him to have that (worry) on his mind.”
She reflected that while Andre came off the bend close behind the Americans in the 200-metre, there was no question he’d come out on top.
“I had no doubt in my mind that he will pull away from them because he has that endurance and that speed to really like make it to the end,” Beverley said.
“He’s good at the 200 because of his endurance at the end and be able to pull away from everybody. He has that top-end speed. I know his start is not as great and 100 metres is pretty short, but I had no doubt he would get that gold in the 200 metres.”
Minutes after the race was over, she said she was able to speak briefly with Andre thanks to a reporter in Tokyo connecting her to him through a video call.
“We were basically just smiling at each other. ‘I can’t believe you did it.’ He was just so excited, so happy. ‘I finally did it. I finally did it, mom,'” Beverley recalled.
She said the win was also satisfying amid some doubts that were raised going into the Games, noting he hasn’t run his fastest beforehand to limit the physical toll it takes on his body.
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“A lot of media people counted him out really whether he was going to medal or not. I think it’s only after they saw him race in the semi-finals then they started thinking yeah, he could really win this medal, but that’s Andre. Andre puts on his best when it counts,” Beverley said.
“He works his season really smartly.”
During her media availability Wednesday afternoon, Beverley looked back at her son’s journey into sprinting and noted he originally wanted to play basketball.
“I thought maybe the NBA one day. I guess when that didn’t work out, this was another option,” she said.
Beverley added she thought track and field was just a means for Andre to have a day away from school.
“I never thought this would have been happening today like being in the Olympics or anything like that. I just thought he wanted to skip school and have fun with his friends,” she said while laughing.
Tony Sharpe, the Olympic sprinter who founded The Speed Academy Athletics Club, recalled walking into a meet by chance and seeing Andre perform so well without much coaching.
“It certainly grabs your attention,” he said.
“Like most kids, I gave him a card and said, ‘I’d love to help you out because next round you’re going to meet a bunch of my guys from another region and you’re not going to get past them, so I’m going to give you a shot to do that.'”
Sharpe said like his appearance on Wednesday, Andre has always had a calm demeanour. During his first high school OFSSA match in Ontario, Sharpe said Andre came in fifth after a month of coaching and it was two months later when he came out on top.
“I saw something special and competition didn’t scare him, he didn’t get razzled back then much like he is now,” she said.
While watching his Gold medal-winning performance, Sharpe said he had tears of joy when watching, especially after he pulled ahead in the last 20 metres.
Sharpe said he’s been in track and field for 50 years and emphasized that Andre was the most talented sprinter he has seen to date. He added that it’s not just his athletic ability that contributes to that distinction.
“Andre is the ultimate role model: Kind, respectful and all the things we look for in a young man,” he said.
“He’s just a good person and that’s the thing that inspires me.”
Sharpe went on to say that he hopes there is more attention to track and field events in between the summer Olympic Games every four years and that Andre’s journey serves as inspiration for other aspiring athletes.
Meanwhile, looking forward, Andre still has another shot at winning another medal at the Tokyo Games. But after that, she said she wants to have a big party with his supporters.
“I guess everybody is going to be after him. I wonder if he’s going to have any time for himself,” Beverley said.
She also said Andre will want to work toward improving his times for the 100-metre race in an effort to win the gold in that category, adding she believes he has one or two more Olympics games in him.
Beverley also said having his own family has played a bigger role for him this time around versus the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro
“I think all of this has kept him grounded. He’s not just doing this for himself, he’s doing this for his family, his kids, so that they can look up to him and he can be a role model to them,” she said.
— With files from Leslie Young