Andre De Grasse says the opportunity to train with professional athletes and to learn from some of the world’s top coaches lured him to Phoenix.
The Canadian sprint sensation has a new home, moving to Arizona this week to train with ALTIS — formerly the World Athletics Center — under Canadian power and sprint coach Stuart McMillan.
"I wanted to move on with my life a little bit and experience the professional side and be with professional athletes, professional coaches," De Grasse said in an ALTIS podcast. "I came to ALTIS on a visit last week, it was amazing. I couldn’t believe the type of treatment they get here and I said, ‘I think this is the place for me.’
"USC has been really great to me, and the coaches, but it’s definitely a time, a period, for me to move on and I need to get ready for the Olympics."
The move comes weeks after the 21-year-old from Markham, Ont., announced he’d turned pro, signing an historic and lucrative US$11.25-million deal with Puma. He had been training at the University of Southern California while working toward finishing his sociology degree.
ALTIS has over 100 international athletes in various track and field disciplines, and a crew of some 35 coaches, therapists and staff members.
"We’re super excited, great guy," said John Godina, founder and CEO of ALTIS, and a four-time world shot put champion. "I’m just excited to have him in my group, and adding to what we’re doing out here."
McMillan, who has guided over 60 Olympians in six Games — both summer and winter — said De Grasse is fitting in well in Phoenix.
"Andre has just finished an amazing season, virtually unprecedented in the history of the sport," said McMillan. "His coaching team at USC clearly have done an exceptional job."
"Being a professional athlete in a college system (however) has many challenges, including the fact that your coach is away for two to three days of most weeks from January to June," he added. "The additional challenge of therapy, nutritional, supplemental, and travel support, and a relative lack of a high-quality professional group to train with, makes succeeding as a professional athlete training in a college setting extremely difficult."
De Grasse — who’s moved several times in the past few years, from Markham, to Coffeyville College in Kansas, to USC in Los Angeles — said he can see himself training in Phoenix for the next decade.
"I’m really loving my training, it’s my second day of training, and I already love it," he said. "The coaches definitely know exactly what they’re doing … I definitely love the fact that, because I’m so new to the sport, I’m learning more."
Godina originally started ALTIS as a training group for throwers, prior to the 2012 London Olympics. He then expanded the program, hiring Pfaff and McMillan, among others. He most recently added Canadian sprint coach Kevin Tyler.
ALTIS coaches have guided athletes to over 50 Olympic medals. Among Pfaff’s accomplishments was coaching Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey to Olympic gold.
De Grasse is coming off a spectacular season that saw him win bronze in the 100 metres at the world championships in Beijing. He also won both the 100 and 200 metres at the NCAA championships — less than 45 minutes apart — then repeated the double gold at the Pan American Games in Toronto.
De Grasse became just the third Canadian to break the 10-second barrier in the 100 metres behind Bailey and Bruny Surin. (Ben Johnson ran sub-10 as well but the convicted doper’s times were erased from the record books). The young star also broke the Canadian record in the 200 metres.
He has lofty goals for 2016: breaking the Canadian record of 9.84 co-held by Bailey and Surin, and reaching the Olympic podium in both the 100 and 200. De Grasse’s personal best in the 100 is 9.92 seconds.
De Grasse’s multi-year deal with Puma could see him earn as much as $30 million with bonuses — the largest initial deal in the history of the sport.
De Grasse joins a group in Phoenix that includes Anaso Jobodwana of South Africa, world bronze medallist in the 200 metres, Wilfried Koffi, the African champion in the 100 and 200 metres, NCAA champion Ameer Webb, and Canadian sprinters Akeem Haynes, Justyn Warner and Dontae Richards-Kwok, among others.