Andre De Grasse stood against the track railing Tuesday while a throng of schoolchildren a dozen deep thrust articles of clothing at him with tiny hands.
The Canadian sprint star seemed like he’d happily sign autographs all day before a handler eventually ushered him away.
The Canadian sprint star has raced on the world’s biggest stage. But it was at a children’s track meet that he realized how much of an impact he’s having on the sport.
“This is the first time (I’ve seen anything like this),” said De Grasse, the most successful sprinter Canada has had in almost two decades. “I never thought I was such an inspiration like this, and that kids looked up to me. It’s pretty cool, I’m speechless about it.”
The 21-year-old from Markham is coming off back-to-back Diamond League victories, winning gold in both the 200m in Birmingham, England, and the 100 last Thursday in Oslo, Norway.
The young star is getting his first taste of the prestigious international circuit in his rookie season as a professional athlete. But the bright lights of the global meets, he said, don’t compare to coming back home.
“It’s totally different. This is my country, this is Toronto, this is Canada, these kids look up to me, you never really see that in other places as much as here, so it’s pretty cool,” De Grasse said.
“They inspire me right now to keep it going, because they’re just telling me ‘Go Andre, go Andre!’ That’s kind of cool to me.”
De Grasse chatted with Toronto Mayor John Tory before the two were introduced to the crowd at the TDSB (Toronto District School Board) elementary school championships. The kids packed the railing clamouring for autographs, shoving T-shirts and hats at the smiling sprinter.
“That’s so cute,” said his mom Beverley, watching the mini-mob scene. “I was surprised when we got here, with the young kids, how they were screaming his name, how much they know about him. I think it’s good, I think he can have a really big impact on young kids. That’s what I would like to see.”
De Grasse is in a transitional season. He turned pro last winter and then swapped his training base at USC for Altis in Phoenix.
– CBC News