De Grasse, international track returns with "Track & Field in the 6ix"
In this July 16, 2017 file photo, Canadian Andre De Grasse celebrates after winning the men's 200-meter at the International Mohammed VI track and field meeting in Rabat, Morocco. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar, File)
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, October 19, 2017 3:26PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, October 19, 2017 8:27PM EDT
TORONTO -- Andre De Grasse was a promising young sprinter at the 2015 Pan American Games and raced to double gold in the 100 and 200 metres. It was his coming-out party, and a jam-packed crowd at Toronto's York University stadium was there to celebrate.
Two world championship and three Olympic medals later, De Grasse is happy to headline track and field's return to Toronto this summer. Dubbed "Toronto 2018: Track and Field in the 6ix," the city will host the NACAC championships, Aug. 10-12 at Varsity Stadium.
"When I ran at the Pan Am Games, I didn't think I would get another opportunity to race at home in my career," De Grasse said. "And it's going to be a better atmosphere because of (his Olympic success in) Rio."
Athletics Canada announced the event on a sun-baked rooftop of a posh downtown hotel, the CN Tower providing the perfect backdrop. De Grasse has thrust track and field back into the spotlight in Canada and believes Toronto is ready to embrace the sport.
"Toronto has a lot more culture with sports, we've got the Raptors, we've got the Maple Leafs, the Argos, so definitely bringing the whole track and field atmosphere to it, it's going to help," he said.
The event was a quick trip home for the 22-year-old from Markham, Ont., who'd recently returned to Phoenix to train. His dream of dethroning Usain Bolt at the world championships in August was derailed by a hamstring tear, but his goal to become the world's fastest man hasn't wavered. Perhaps there was a lesson to be learned from his heartbreak in London.
"It would have been a great feeling (to be crowned world champion), I feel like I could have done it," he said. "It was a humbling experience just to say 'Maybe it's not my time yet, I've got to work harder for it, and just continue to stay hungry and motivated."'
De Grasse was recently cleared by doctors in Germany to return to full training and has done a couple of light workouts. He and coach Stuart McMillan have tried to dissect how his season was thwarted by injury.
"We had a big meeting, talked for about two hours about it, tried to see what went wrong," De Grasse said. "There are so many factors, weather, it could have been a lack of sleep, a lot of travelling, maybe doing too much outside of track (promotional appearances, etc.). We couldn't really figure out what it really was, we tried to look back at: did I run too fast too early? Did the runs early in the year shock my body? Because I hadn't really raced that much since college."
The sprint star doesn't believe much needs changing, saying: "Maybe just try to get more sleep or get more therapy. Who knows? We'll talk about it in the coming weeks."
Borrowing from a concept that's popular in Europe, Athletics Canada also plans a street event as part of "Track and Field in the 6ix," featuring a 100-metre race, high jump and pole vault.
"I think that's the end goal of all of this, is just to make it a more popular sport, a mainstream sport outside of Olympic years," said Melissa Bishop.
Bishop, who recently wed longtime sweetheart Osi Nriagu, also made her big splash onto the international scene in Toronto when she won the 800 metres at the Pan Am Games. She would go on to win world silver a few weeks later.
Shot putter Brittany Crew is excited to compete at home after a sprained ankle kept her out of the Pan Am Games. Throwing takes a backseat to the glamour events such as the men's 100 metres, and Crew said she realizes Canadian athletes are partly riding the coattails of De Grasse.
"As throwers, we don't really have that voice, and I don't really see it changing that much," said Crew, who became Canada's first woman to throw in a world shot put final, finishing sixth in London. "Shot put is kind of a boring event to watch, it's so long, you have to tune in for a whole hour, whereas the sprints it's done in 10 seconds."
She'd love to see her event added to future street meet festivities in Canada.
"I have the idea, to put shot put in (Toronto's) Dundas Square," said Crew.
The 23-year-old from Toronto recalled the thrilling atmosphere of throwing in Grand Place in Brussels' central square at the Diamond League Final in 2016.
"(The fans) were insane," said Crew. "But Europe loves track and field, they love every event."
The NACAC championships will feature more than 600 athletes from 31 different countries representing North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Event winners earn an automatic berth to the 2019 world championships in Doha, Qatar, pending approval from their national federations.
Tickets will start at $30.