Andre De Grasse on his return to racing, life after Usain Bolt
Canadian sprint star anxious for Drake Relays debut following serious hamstring injury
Andre De Grasse is healthy, fit and ready to race for the first time in nine months, though he cautions fans not to expect an immediate return to his 2016 Olympic form.
The Canadian sprint star, forced to withdraw from the world track and field championships last August with a Grade 2 strain of his right hamstring suffered in training, will make his debut at the Drake Relays in the men's 100 metres on Saturday at 3:56 p.m. ET in Des Moines, Iowa.
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"I'm 100 per cent," De Grasse declared in a phone interview with CBC Sports last week. "Right now, it's just about working the rust off, whether it's in my warmup or just trying to get back into race mode and be competitive. That's probably my only issue."
De Grasse last raced on July 16, 2017 in Rabat, Morocco, where he set a meet record of 20.03 seconds in the 200, his fourth consecutive Diamond League victory on the heels of a double gold performance at the Canadian championships in Ottawa.
Months later, the Markham, Ont., native is hardly easing his way back to the track as seven of the event's eight lanes this weekend will feature athletes who have run under 10 seconds, including 2016 Olympian and five-time world championship semifinalist Mike Rodgers of the United States.
De Grasse will also face Great Britain's C.J. Ujah, the 2017 Diamond League champion in the 100; 2016 Olympian Ameer Webb, who has a 9.94 personal best in the 100; and Turkey's Jak Ali Harvey, the 2016 European Championship silver medallist.
"I feel I'm in pretty good shape but I don't want to put any pressure on myself for a fast time," said De Grasse, a three-time Olympic medallist in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he won bronze in the 100 in a personal-best 9.91 seconds. He has broken the 10-second barrier nine times, including a wind-aided 9.69 last June at Diamond League Stockholm.
"I've been training for the past five months so I'm ready to get on the track and see where I'm at. I want to win a Diamond League Trophy [this season] and I'll be ready for the 2019 world championships, and I know I can bring home gold for Canada."
CBC Sports spoke with De Grasse about his recovery from injury, not getting a final chance to beat retired eight-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt and the beginning of a potential rivalry with emerging American sprinter Christian Coleman.
CBC Sports: Did you watch the men's 100-metre final at the 2017 world championships in London, England, won by Justin Gatlin in 9.92 seconds?
De Grasse: I ended up watching it in the hotel room. The winning time wasn't that fast and I thought about what I could have done. [Christian] Coleman got out pretty fast but could I have caught him? [Usain] Bolt's start wasn't that great and Gatlin just kind of snuck in there. I knew I probably could have been in that mix [for a medal].
I felt I could have won the 100 and 200. I had done so well the past couple of years in Beijing [winning bronze in the 100 and 4x100 relay at the 2015 world championships] and at the Olympics. I wanted to upgrade my medals and be better.
CBC Sports: Describe the hurt of not having one final showdown with Usain Bolt at last summer's world championships after he beat you in the 100 and 200 at the Rio Olympics?
De Grasse: I felt it was the greatest opportunity for me, to beat him at worlds. It did hurt but it's a new era now. There are a lot of other young guys and it's any man's opportunity to win. I'm looking forward to that opportunity and challenge.
CBC Sports: Describe the process in rehabbing the hamstring and what you learned in battling back from your first serious track injury?
De Grasse: I got a lot of physio therapy [in the beginning] and massage before strengthening areas in my legs to make sure when I returned to the track [in training] that I wasn't going to injure my hamstring. I did that for about a month and was also in the weight room doing strength exercises for a month, month-and-a-half.
I was also getting treatment four, five days a week and only doing physical activity for two to three hours a day, starting for two days a week and later three. I started ramping up the intensity a few months later and was back on the track in November.
Some days in training I wouldn't want to push, I was too nervous. I had to learn to be mentally strong and tell myself I could push through. It was about trusting my body and not pushing too hard. I wanted to take my time coming back.
CBC Sports: Why did you withdraw from the Commonwealth Games earlier this month, even though you hadn't had a setback in your recovery?
De Grasse: I didn't feel fit enough to run fast times. I wasn't recovering quickly from [training runs] and didn't feel ready to run three rounds [in the first round, semifinals and final] but I feel confident moving forward.
CBC Sports: At the world indoor track and field championships in March, U.S. Olympian Christian Coleman said he has "a good chance to lead the sport in the post-Usain Bolt era." What do you make of his words and an emerging rivalry with the U.S. Olympian?
De Grasse: I think it's good. Everyone feels confident and they want to be the best. I want to be dominant but I always want to be able to say I've raced and beat the best. He's the up-and-coming runner and I'm looking forward to the challenge and rivalry.
He has a [world] silver medal so he's one up on me. I saw him break the indoor world record [6.37 seconds in the 60 metres] and I'm looking forward to being competitive with him. It's up to us [and fellow sprinter] Wayde van Niekerk to bring back that excitement now that Usain has left the sport. We need to make sure we keep the sport growing.