Andre De Grasse is poised to begin his professional career, and he knows more than a few eyes will be watching.
The 21-year-old sprint star from Markham, Ont., will make his season debut Saturday in the 60 metres at the prestigious Millrose Games, part of a scaled-down indoor track season for De Grasse on the heels of a ridiculously gruelling 2015 outdoor season.
The race is his first since he won bronze in the 100 metres and 4x100 relay at the world championships in August, and De Grasse knows expectations are high.
"There are always expectations. This is my first meet and I'm going to come out here and compete," De Grasse said at a news conference Thursday in New York. "A lot of things could happen and I'm just going to come out and try to be confident. I can't say much or I can't put too much expectations on myself because it's my first meet — you're going to do well or you're going to do bad. I'm going to go out and have fun like I always have."
The 60 metres, he said, is not his strong event. But he's working a lot on his starts.
"I think I'm better than I was last year," he said.
The Millrose Games are more an opportunity to make his pro debut in a high profile meet, and a chance to stretch out his racing legs ahead of his Rio Olympic season.
De Grasse is coming off a spectacular season that saw him win double gold in the 100 and 200 at both the NCAA championships and Pan Am Games, then cap his year with double bronze at the worlds in Beijing. He opted to forgo his last season of eligibility at USC, signing an historic US$11.25-million deal with Puma.
He says he's still navigating his way as a pro track athlete.
"I feel like I've had a lot of ups and downs stress-wise, back in 2015, trying to figure out turning professional or go back to school," De Grasse said. "A lot of things have been going through my mind lately — how am I going to handle this, how am I going to handle that?
"But I have a great supporting base and a lot of family and friends have been helping me out through situations. Basically, they've been helping me get through this whole thing and I'm ready to go in 2016. I'm ready to focus on this season."
This season of big changes also saw him leave California right after Christmas and move to Phoenix to train with Stu McMillan and ALTIS (formerly the World Athletic Center).
"It's been going well," De Grasse said. "It's a different atmosphere, a different coach and I'm adjusting to different things. I'm just working on my transition phase and my block starts and I know that's what I need to work on."
Other Canadians competing in New York on Saturday include Khamica Bingham of Brampton, Ont., in the women's 60 metres; Brianne Theisen-Eaton of Humboldt, Sask., (60 hurdles); Mo Ahmed of Hamilton, Ont., Cam Levins of Black Creek, B.C., and Matt Hughes of Oshawa, Ont., (3,000 metres); Mike Mason of Nanoose Bay, B.C., (high jump); and Charles Philibert-Thiboutot of Quebec City (mile).
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press