NEWS
07/26/2015 16:11 EDT | Updated 07/26/2016 01:12 EDT

Andre De Grasse our pick for Canadian athlete of the Pan Am Games

All of Canada now knows how to pronounce Andre De Grasse's last name, and a lot more about him. That it took this long says much, again, about the approach to amateur sports we take in this country.

The Markham, Ont., native, chosen as CBCSports.ca's Canadian Athlete of the Pan Am Games, won track gold medals in both the 100 and 200 metres, and could have had a third but for the disqualification of the men's sprint relay team on the final day of athletics.

By lowering his own national record in the 200 to 19.88 seconds, it made De Grasse the first Canadian in history to go under 20 seconds for the half-lap, and under 10 (9.95) for the front straightaway.  

Everything has happened so quickly for the 20 year old, who came late to the sport halfway through high school and has found such success at the University of Southern California. There he doubled the 100 and 200 metres within 45 minutes of each other at the NCAA championships, winning both.

It's enough to produce a confused young man, caught up in his own early victories.

That didn't seem to be the case at the brand new York University athletics stadium, across a small campus street from the indoor track where he first ran seriously just over three years ago.

After each victory, De Grasse waved at everybody, met old friends and strangers alike, posed for group selfies with fans, yelled up at those he recognized in the stands and withstood the media horde with patience.

Following the 200m gold, he tweeted out a note to Canadians:

Canada has caught on this is a generational track athlete, as Donovan Bailey was in his day, and Harry Jerome before him. That means the press of the media will be increased, the expectations of a land still somewhat ignorant of how sprinting works will grow, and the directions De Grasse will be stretched multiplied.

Life change

There is talk of a six-figure shoe deal and that would instantly change his life and ones of his family.  

Let's understand now that this is a book that has only just been cracked open, the introduction read and each chapter ahead to enjoy.

Chapter 2 will be the world championships, held in the end of August in Beijing, where De Grasse will have his first chance to match up against the world's sprinting elite. There, he will run just the 100m and the relay.

Caryl Smith Gilbert, his coach from USC who came to the Pan Ams to keep him training for the worlds, was most taken with the way her tiring protégé ran the half-lap.

"This impressed me the most," she told Canadian Press. "Because he could have easily, the way his body was feeling, and with all of the pressure and everything going on, he could easily have said 'I'll get the bronze.'

"But he's a fighter, you can't coach that. That's natural. He's a great kid."

That fight will take De Grasse, barring injury, to the Rio Games, where he'll be 21 years old. Then, one assumes, to Tokyo in 2020 and who knows where in 2024.

There, he might come home as a 29 year old for one last chance to perform in front of Canadian fans - at the Toronto Olympics.

Sprinter Andre De Grasse captured the hearts of Canadians after winning the 100- and 200-metre Pan Am titles. For these accomplishments, and more, the Markham, Ont., native was chosen CBCSports.ca's Canadian Athlete of the Pan Am Games.