After plenty of speculation on whether or not Canadian sprint star Andre De Grasse was going to remain a student-athlete at the University of Southern California or become a professional sprinter, he has finally made it official.
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The 21-year-old from Markham, Ont., announced Friday that he has signed a pro deal with Puma, the same company that sponsors Usain Bolt.
"Puma gave me an offer I couldn't refuse," De Grasse told CBCSports.ca on the phone in an exclusive interview from his apartment in Los Angeles. "I'm just ready to live up to the hype now."
Doyle Management, De Grasse's agent, told Lori Ewing of The Canadian Press that the multi-year deal with Puma is worth $11.25 million US. With bonuses, De Grasse could earn as much as $30 million.
Although it boasts the Jamaican legend Bolt, Puma isn't a typical track and field or running sponsor the same way that Nike or Adidas are viewed. But with Bolt on his way out – 2016 could be his last season – the apparel company may have a lot of extra money laying around. And De Grasse could stand to be the company's poster boy.
'Can't believe this is real'
The amount De Grasse will be receiving has remained undisclosed.
"I'll just say that I'm really happy with what I'm getting," said De Grasse, who has also announced a partnership with Paul Doyle, the same agent that represents U.S. decathlon world record holder Ashton Eaton. "I'm really scared to go to sleep tonight because I don't want to wake up anywhere else. I can't believe that this is real."
He wasn't the only De Grasse that had to deal with the stresses of waiting for this moment to finally arrive. His mother Beverley had been taking some of the strain of this crucial decision in her son's life. On Friday, she was just happy that the struggle to make a decision is finally over.
"Thoughts of whether or not Andre should go pro have been on our minds all the way back since the NCAA Championships," she said. "I'm a mom, so I take on whatever stress he has, so it's been really tough. So today, I'm not only extremely proud, but I'm also very relieved."
Andre De Grasse's contract is the LARGEST initial contract in track and field history. @AthleticsCanada— @Ewingsports
After winning two gold medals at the Pan Am Games and two bronze medals at the world championships, De Grasse had an offer to go professional in September. But he delayed that decision due to a few factors like not knowing what he was worth and also the fact that he has always enjoyed being a student-athlete with USC. The decision to turn professional became more of an option when it was brought to his attention that he could still get his degree even if he declared himself a pro.
De Grasse will continue to work with USC coach Caryl Smith-Gilbert. "Andre has risen to the top of the sport very quickly and I'm both happy and proud that USC could be a part of his journey," Smith-Gilbert said.
"What Andre accomplished in his short time here at USC was nothing short of amazing, and we look to support him in any way possible as he embarks on his professional career."
De Grasse's announcement that he's going pro was no surprise to Peter Eriksson, head coach of Canada's national track and field team.
"Of course it gives a boost to the team," said Eriksson, who is happy that De Grasse is sticking with his current sprint coach at USC. "I think we have some really good upcoming younger sprinters... So he's a good role model for the kids that [are coming] up."
Time to get his own place
It may be difficult for De Grasse to maintain his simple lifestyle given the fame and fortune that may be coming his way. But he says he plans to keep this very simple for now. He'll get a few new comforts now though, such as a new car, his own apartment – and he'll spoil himself with a PlayStation 4.
He says he doesn't want to let money change too much in his life.
"Nothing is going to really change. Same training venue, same coach, and I can still get my degree. Only real difference is some extra change in my pocket. There really was no reason for me to turn down the opportunity.
"I've never really been a flashy guy," he said. "The way I look at it is that this is all setting me up to be able to run faster and live up to the hype. And I'm ready."
De Grasse will have his sights set on the world indoor track and field championships March 17 to 20 in Portland, Ore., in preparation for the 2016 Rio Olympics.