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Canada's De Grasse has new chance to feature in Olympics after postponement

A day ago, De Grasse wasn't sure he would be allowed to attend the Games. Canada decided to not send a team to the Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic unless the games were delayed a year. On Tuesday, they were.

Scarborough sprinter did not vote in recent COC survey about attending Games

Andre De Grasse of Canada reacts after taking the silver medal in the men's 200m final at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar in 2019. (Nariman El-Mofty/The Associated Press)

Andre De Grasse now has the chance to be a major part of the sprint show at the Tokyo Games.

For that, he's breathing a little easier.

A day ago, Canada's fastest man wasn't sure he would be allowed to take to the starting line, even if he wanted to. His country decided to not send a team to the Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic unless the games were delayed a year.

They were, and now he's back on course.

On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee postponed the Olympics until 2021. The announcement was recognition of the reality that training and qualifying schedules have been completely disrupted as the coronavirus spreads.

WATCH | Canadian IOC member discusses Tokyo 2020 postponement:

Canadian IOC member Dick Pound tells the CBC the Tokyo 2020 postponement will have a big impact on the international sports calendar. 8:50

De Grasse is relieved the emotional roller-coaster he's been riding has levelled out somewhat.

"I'm at peace with the Olympics being postponed until 2021," he told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. "The last few weeks have been difficult.

"At first I convinced myself that COVID-19 was going to go away in time for the Games to be held this summer. But when we lost access to our training facilities a week ago I started to have some real doubts.

"It was a bold but impressive move for the COC and CPC to lead the charge in pushing for the Games to be postponed. We're all fighting for something much more important than medals at the moment."

This was supposed to be De Grasse's year — his first chance for Olympic gold without Usain Bolt looming a few steps away. Only a new crop of talent has arrived on the scene in Americans Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles.

It's shaping up to be quite a showdown, one that De Grasse certainly wanted in on and now can be given the IOC decision not to start the games on July 24 as scheduled.

Next on the agenda for the IOC and organizers is picking a date when it might be safe again to hold such a big event. They'll also have to rearrange the 2021 global sports calendar.

WATCH | CBC Sports' Jamie Strashin explains postponement:

IOC says Tokyo Olympics must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021. 3:16

De Grasse is, by most measures, Canada's highest-profile summer sports star. The country brought 314 athletes to the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016. It captured 22 medals, with De Grasse bringing home three.

Although De Grasse wasn't contacted individually by Team Canada in regard to its decision not to send athletes to Tokyo before the IOC decision to postpone, he did receive a survey.

He didn't fill it out.

"I didn't know how I felt about the situation at the time," explained De Grasse, who has seven Olympic and world championship medals to his credit. "I was letting it go and playing it by ear day by day and seeing if this things got better.

"They're trying to protect us. We're humans first and athletes second. We'll get through this."

Family time

These days, he's in Florida with his girlfriend, American hurdler Nia Ali. Now that cities and states are closing gyms and urging social distancing, his workouts have been reduced to running on a soccer field and chasing around their daughter, Yuri, who turns 2 in June. Ali also has a son, Titus.

"I'm with the kids, at home, a lot," De Grasse cracked. "I feel like I'm active because I'm chasing them around. We go swimming in the backyard."

WATCH | Postponement calls Olympians' careers into question:

CBC Sports' Scott Russell says the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics could jeopardize careers of some of Canada's older athletes. 5:57

De Grasse didn't take the most conventional route into the world of sprinting. In fact, he thought his path to glory was as a point guard in basketball.

That changed when he bumped into a friend on the bus in high school. He boasted he could beat him in a race.

Race on.

Wearing baggy basketball shorts and borrowed spikes, De Grasse started from a standing position instead of uncoiling from the blocks.

He won.

A coach, Tony Sharpe, happened to see him from the stands, took him under his wing and helped fine-tune that raw speed.

De Grasse burst on the scene in 2015, when he tied for the 100-metre bronze medal at the world championships in Beijing. Back then, he was just a role player in the showdown between Bolt and American rival Justin Gatlin.

A year later at the Rio Games, De Grasse took centre stage and clowned around with Bolt, though it wasn't all fun and games. Bolt was looking for the world record, possibly to even break the 19-second barrier in the 200. He fell short, and among the reasons he cited was De Grasse's decision to push him the night before in the semifinals.

De Grasse ended up earning silver during the 200 in Brazil, along with bronze medals in the 100 and as part of the 4x100 relay team.

He occasionally watches his Olympic races — for inspiration.

"There's a lot of motivation to say to myself, 'I can be one of the fastest men in the world,"' De Grasse recounted. "When I watch, it fuels that and makes me hungry to win again and have that feeling that I felt in Rio."

He's healthy again, too.

Bothered by hamstring injuries in 2017 and in '18, he flashed his familiar — and fast — form at the world championships last fall in Doha, Qatar. De Grasse took bronze in the 100 behind Coleman and Gatlin. Later, he picked up silver in the 200 behind Lyles.

A rematch in Tokyo?

De Grasse has that chance.

With files from The Canadian Press

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