LANGLEY, BC – Sitting in the call room steps away from the track and McLeod Athletic Park, a tense calmness comes over the athletes. It is quiet, save for a few words and stretches.
On Sunday afternoon, before the men’s 200m final at the Canadian Track and Field Championships, Brendon Rodney leaned over to teammate and competitor Andre De Grasse.
“I told him to remember your name is De Grasse,” Rodney told 49 Sports. “I told him he’s an Olympic champion, and it’s just a matter of time, and I’m happy for him; he’s my friend.”
De Grasse captured the Canadian Championship in the distance, running a wind-legal season best of 20.01 seconds in front of a roaring crowd in the Township of Langley, BC, and ending a five-year streak of Aaron Brown taking the event at nationals.
His gold medal-winning race was his fastest since Sept. 9, 2021, when he hit 19.72 at the Zurich Diamond League event, and the Canadian title marked his first since 2017 in Ottawa, Ont.
For the 28-year-old and Tokyo 2020 Olympic champion in the distance, it was a bounce-back race after missing the World Championship standard and Canadian Championship final in the 100m on Friday night.
Yet, as the sun beamed off his trademark sunglasses on Sunday, De Grasse stayed composed as he approached the 200m heats. While already qualified for the World Championships on ranking, the desire for a Canadian title was evident.
“It’s growth, lessons learned, every day you’re always trying to get better, and today was all about that, just getting better,” De Grasse said. “I had two rounds to get myself a chance; I blasted the first round and then wanted to see what I had left in the tank for the finals.”
Massive roars from the crowd were not unusual for the Olympic champion in the distance, as he raced to a 20.31 to post the fastest time in the preliminaries.
Despite not being wind-legal, the preliminary was his fastest mark since a British meet in May and only trailed his also not-wind-legal overall season-best of 20.28 set in June in Oslo Diamond League.
Of course, it was his season-best final to outdo his heat time. Trailing him in the final were his 4x100m relay teammates, with Brown winning silver in 20.10 and Rodney taking bronze in 20.15
De Grasse pushed on by daughter, family
Winning his first Canadian Championship medal in six years, the Brampton, Ont. native is a different athlete than he was as a young runner coming off his first Olympics of Rio 2016. At Tokyo 2020, he celebrated his 200m gold medal with his family on a monitor in the finish area.
This year, his now five-year-old daughter, Yuri, pushed him toward the Canadian title and embraced him soon after.
“She kind of gets it now,” he said. “Even in the Olympics, she didn’t really get it cause she was just three…she gets that daddy runs for a living, and even after [the 100m], she just encouraged me and said, ‘Daddy, you’ve got to win the next race, so I use that as motivation.”
In the past year, it’s been a shift for De Grasse in his approach to training and racing, as he continues to strive towards refinding the form he showed in the leadup to Tokyo 2020.
He switched coaches ahead of the 2023 season, hiring Irishman John Coghlan to lead him through the next phase of his career, but one thing remains the same — De Grasse is a man for the big moments and not one to shy away from the spotlight.
Although the Canadian Championships in front of a modest crowd in Langley pales in comparison to the Olympics and World Championships, he seldom panics and delivered his best run in years on Sunday.
It’s what he does, his career, and how he has pushed himself to define a generation of Canadian sprinting. It’s not only the medals for De Grasse but his ability to come ready and prepared when the moment looms brightest.
“I’m just trying to go back now and figure out the next steps going into Budapest, I have three weeks to get ready, and now it’s just figuring out what can happen,” he said. “If I get a chance to run the 100m, that’s great, but today I got the standard, so I’ll be able to run the 200m as well.”
The World Championships begin on Aug. 19, with De Grasse set to run in at least the 200m from Aug. 23-25 and the 4x100m relay on Aug. 26, with the 100m still within the potential lineup.
“I just wanted to come out here and compete,” he said. “That’s what it’s about right now, competing and giving my all out there.”