Road To The Olympic Games

Track and Field

Andre De Grasse, the student, fulfilling promise he made to his mom

There are no track practices or lifting sessions for the 21-year-old, who hasn't run down the track since his stunning Olympic debut at the Rio Games. It's all about the books as he finishes his sociology degree -- fulfilling a promise he made to his mom Beverley.

Canadian sprinter finishing up sociology degree at USC

Andre De Grasse, right, has taken a two-month break from training and is back at the University of Southern California finishing his sociology degree after a promise to his his mother Beverley. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Andre De Grasse is on a break between classes at the University of Southern California, and for once he has nowhere to be.

There have been no track practices or lifting sessions for the 21-year-old for weeks. He hasn't run down the track since his stunning Olympic debut at the Rio Games. It's been all about the books as he finishes his sociology degree — fulfilling a promise he made to his mom Beverley.

"I made a promise to her and a lot of people, even here at USC, that I would come back and finish what I started because I didn't want to leave that chapter of my life behind," De Grasse said after class, from Los Angeles. "I enjoyed my time here at USC so much, and a lot of people see me here putting in a lot of work and effort, and I didn't want to let that go to waste, and I thought this would be the perfect time now that the Olympics are over."

The sprinter from Markham, Ont., took two months off since he captured a silver and two bronze medals in Rio. He kept active playing pickup basketball or soccer with friends.

But it was back to training on Friday. De Grasse was set to fly to Phoenix on Thursday night to work with his coach Stu McMillan for the weekend, and the plan is to spend two or three days per week in Arizona until his schoolwork is complete, and he can move back to Arizona. He'll finish his degree in December.

De Grasse was in dire need of the break, McMillan said.

"When you look at Andre's last 18 months of his career, it's been pretty hard, I think he needed a longer recovery than most," the coach said from Phoenix. "He pretty much went straight from worlds in 2015, took a couple weeks and was back into training, so it was long 18 months, 24 months of training for him with two major competitions and a lot of stress, so just felt it prudent that we take a longer recovery for him."

De Grasse's career has skyrocketed since he left the USC campus last winter, forgoing his final season of NCAA eligibility to turn professional. Returning to the USC campus, his college friends were quick to bring him back down to earth.

'Keep me humble'

"A lot of people joke around because they knew me before that happened, so they're always trying to tell me 'Hey, don't get too big-headed now, we knew you before all that happened,"' De Grasse said, laughing. "They keep me humble."

He's posed for his fair share of pictures, though, and has done some Q&As and student-athlete panels at the request of his professors.

De Grasse was was one of Canada's most captivating storylines of the Rio Olympics, his relationship with Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt painting some unforgettable pictures.

Bolt will race at next summer's world championships in London in what's being billed as his "farewell" meet. De Grasse can't wait for another shot at the 30-year-old.

"If it is going to be his last time, I've got to just try to enjoy the moment and have fun and go out there and give it my all against him one last time," De Grasse said. "It's going to be interesting to see where I'm at next year, and see where he's at."

As far as unseating the world's greatest sprinter, however, De Grasse is measuring his words. The young runner said his confidence has sometimes been misinterpreted.

"I've noticed that in the past year, people tell me about interviews I do, and they say 'They make you sound like you're cocky but you're not really a cocky guy,"' De Grasse said. "I don't want to rub people the wrong way where I sound cocky and say I'm going to beat Bolt. At the same time, I'm confident I can go out there and compete with him, and beat him."

There could be some changes to De Grasse's training this season. He arrived in Phoenix last January with legs battered from too much racing, and so McMillan spent the first two months "deloading" the young star. Plus, the Rio Olympics loomed large, expectations were huge.

Time to make changes

"I know one thing we can do (this season), is we don't have the stress of trying to prepare for the Olympic Games at the end of this season looming over us, so we can actually make more of the technical changes I wanted to make last year this year, without really being scared of him having enough time to implement them, because it's not as big a year," McMillan said.

"We can probably do a little bit more volume (in the weigh room) this year," he added. "Because of our concerted effort to deload about six to eight weeks last year, we didn't really get a big opportunity to do a lot of volume in his program. Probably his 200 suffered because of it. He was definitely in 19.6 shape by the Olympics, but I think he can go significantly faster than that."

Bolt won the 200 in 19.78, while De Grasse crossed in 20.02.

Besides his studies, De Grasse is working on developing his own charitable foundation, saying "That's pretty important for me, because I want to give back to the community."

He'll travel to Chile with Puma — the company with which he signed his historic US$11.25 million shoe deal last winter — on Oct. 27. There are also early plans for a "street meet" this coming summer that would see him race in downtown Toronto.

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