Andre Degrasse at the Rio Olympics.

Andre Degrasse at the Rio Olympics.

Star sprinter Andre De Grasse voted Canadian Press male athlete of the year

Andre De Grasse voted CP male athlete of 2016

TORONTO — The smile was priceless, a rare spontaneous moment in the Olympic pressure cooker that will go down as one of the most enduring images of the Rio Summer Games.

Andre De Grasse had cruised up alongside Usain Bolt in their 200-metre semifinal and flashed the Jamaican giant a wide grin. The slender, five-foot-nine De Grasse could have been the precocious little brother challenging the six-foot-five big brother. Bolt couldn’t help but crack a smile.

It may as well have been a race between just two. Behind them, six other sprinters strained to keep up.

In his Olympic debut, and just his second true season in the sport, the 22-year-old dared to race the greatest sprinter of all time, and his youthful charm had Canadian fans smitten.

De Grasse, who raced to three Olympic medals in Rio, has been voted the winner of the Lionel Conacher Award as the Canadian Press male athlete of 2016.

“I just try to have a lot of fun when I’m competing because I know how hard it is during training,” De Grasse said. “And there are always going to be ups and downs with sports, but I have to remember to always just be motivated because I know I inspire a lot of people, and I want to show them it’s a fun sport, I want to lift up the sport, especially in Canada.”

The Markham, Ont., sprinter earned 43 votes (66 per cent) in the annual survey of editors and broadcasters from across the country.

De Grasse won silver in the 200 metres in Rio and bronze in both the 100 and 4×100-metre relay.

“No Canadian has ever done that,” said CBC’s Scott Russell. “De Grasse competes in the deepest of all sports. He competed against the greatest sprinter of all time. In addition, he helped erase a 20-year-old Canadian record in the 4×100-metre relay which had been held by a squad anchored by Donovan Bailey and which resulted in Olympic Gold in 1996.”

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was second with 18 votes (28 per cent).

“Sidney Crosby is an amazing athlete so any time I’m in the conversation with him, that feels pretty good,” De Grasse said from Phoenix. “I’m really happy to win the award.”

High jumper Derek Drouin, who won gold in Rio, earned two votes, while Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers and tennis star Milos Raonic each received one.

“In any other year, it could have gone to Derek Drouin or Milos Raonic or Sidney Crosby or Joey Votto or . . . But Andre De Grasse did something we haven’t seen in a generation and he did it with such a sense of enjoyment,” said Bev Wake, Postmedia’s senior executive producer of sports. “With Usain Bolt the best sprinter in history, finishing second in the 200-metre race was almost as good as gold.”

What made De Grasse’s feat truly remarkable, according to coach Stu McMillan, is that it came in just his second year of solid training at the end of a season that saw several significant life changes. He turned pro at this time last season, signing a historic US$11.25-million deal with Puma. He also left the University of Southern California to move to Phoenix to train with McMillan and the Altis program. His training environment exploded from the one sprinter he worked with at USC to being part of a program that is home to about 100 of the world’s top athletes.

“That he was able to come out of that season with all of those things on top of him, and still have three Olympic medals is pretty incredible really,” McMillan said.

De Grasse, who once had dreams of playing in the NBA and played against Minnesota Timberwolves star Andrew Wiggins growing up, was famously discovered by track coach Tony Sharpe at a high school meet he raced on a whim. He made the track world sit up and take notice in 2015 when he won both the 100 and 200 at the NCAA championships and the Pan American Games in Toronto.

He carries himself with a refreshing naivete that McMillan believes helped pave his path to the Olympic podium.

“He doesn’t really understand how good he is, and he doesn’t know the sport really well. He doesn’t understand how difficult this is supposed to be. Which is a good thing,” McMillan said. “Coming in with fresh eyes I think. . . it’s actually taught me quite a lot. I’m used to coaching people who have been in the sport for multiple years, and have their pre-set expectations of what they should be doing, and what is possible. And then he comes in and blows it all up. That was pretty cool.”

De Grasse recently completed his sociology degree at USC, keeping a promise he made to his mom. He celebrated his graduation with a couple of friends in Las Vegas, and is now back in Phoenix training with McMillan for the upcoming season.

He said the magnitude of his accomplishments didn’t sink in until well after Rio.

“It really hit me when I went home and I saw the reaction from a lot of the fans that watched me in Rio, and just being at home in Toronto and getting lot of love whenever I go places, that’s when I kind of realized what  I had accomplished,” De Grasse said. “A lot of people were like ‘Oh you’re going to be the next Olympic gold medallist.’

“I have to remember that even though all these people are telling me this I still have to continue to work hard and accomplish that because it’s not going to be overnight. But it really feels good to make a lot of those people proud and especially my family and friends, they’re really proud of what I accomplished in such a short time.”

Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price was last year’s winner of the Conacher Award, which has been handed out since 1932 and is named for the all-rounder voted Canada’s athlete of the half-century in 1950. The illustrious list of past winners also includes Steve Nash, who won it three times, Crosby (three), and Wayne Gretzky (seven). Bailey was the last track and field athlete to win it in 1996. 

The winner of the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as female athlete of the year will be revealed Tuesday.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said De Grasse was 21

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin stopping drivers on BC highways – check point at Manning Park

Four check points are set up Thursday May 6 around the province

The Aquilini Investment Group has agreed to a proposed contract of five years to run the Abbotsford Centre. (File photo)
Proposal to run Abbotsford Centre offered to Canucks ownership group

Planned five-year contract to cost city $750K annually, starting Jan. 1, 2022

The AHL Board of Governors has approved the Vancouver Canucks decision to move their franchise to Abbotsford. (File photo)
AHL approves Canucks’ franchise relocation to Abbotsford

Board of Governors approves move, season set to start on Oct. 15

Abbotsford Police Department Traffic Enforcement Unit officers were enforcing Highway 11 on Thursday morning. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
Abbotsford police enforce traffic on Highway 11

APD Traffic Enforcement Unit regularly responds to general public hot spot complaints

First responders were on the scene at West Oaks Mall following a collision involving a pedestrian on Sept. 29, 2020. (Kevin MacDonald file photo)
Man charged in relation to hit-and-run that injured pedestrian in Abbotsford

Collision took place in September 2020 in crosswalk at West Oaks Mall

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Surrey RCMP is investigating after a serious three-vehicle crash at the intersection of King George Boulevard and 128th Street Thursday afternoon (May 6, 2021). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
VIDEO: Serious crash in Surrey sends 1 to hospital

Surrey RCMP say one of the drivers fled on foot, but was later found at an area hospital

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

John Paul Fraser, executive director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. (Screen shot)
Salmon farmers warn Surrey jobs on line as feds end Discovery Islands operations

344 full-time jobs at risk in Surrey and 1,189 B.C.-wide

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read