MARKHAM, Ont. — On the heels of two seasons cut short by hamstring injuries, Andre De Grasse wanted a fresh start.
And so the 24-year-old sprint star spent the fall weighing his options before finally choosing American coach Rana Reider, and he hopes the move will right the ship heading into the two most critical seasons of the Olympic quadrennial.
"I just thought maybe it was time for a change, try something new," De Grasse said. "Change is OK, you’ve got to be willing to make the sacrifices and say to yourself ‘What do you what to accomplish? What goals?’ The next couple of years are very important to me, and maybe if I made a change things will go in a different direction."
The three-time Olympic medallist made a brief trip to his hometown on Saturday to attend his Holiday Classic basketball tournament, which is in its second season. A lineup of young players, basketballs and pens for autographs in hand, grew as he spoke to reporters.
De Grasse suffered his first big blow at the 2017 world championships. He arrived in London undefeated in his previous four races. It was his last shot to beat Usain Bolt. But a hamstring strain in practice forced him to withdraw, and he shut down his season.
Last season ended in similar fashion when he injured the same hamstring at the Canadian championships.
The three-time Olympic medallist said it was an amicable split from his former coach Stuart McMillan, a Canadian who coaches with Altis in Phoenix.
"For me, I didn’t plan on leaving Stu, even after the season was over and I got injured, it didn’t cross my mind to leave Stu, we had a meeting about: What can we do better? What can we plan?" De Grasse said. "I was on board for it. And I think it wasn’t until probably late-October when I was like ‘Let me see if I have anything else I can look towards, other coaches."’
De Grasse said he met with a handful of other coaches, but came away thinking "I’m not going to leave Stu for them."
In November, he heard that Reider, a 48-year-old American who had been coaching in the Netherlands — his group there included Dutch sprint star Dafne Schippers — was returning to Florida to be closer to his family.
"My manager Paul (Doyle) set up a meeting with him and we met in mid-November, and we talked," De Grasse said. "Then we talked on the phone, texted. It definitely was a long thought process, and I finally said ‘OK, we’ve got to get going, we’re approaching December, I’ve got to make a decision where I’m going to train and get back training to get ready for the world championships."’
De Grasse said part of the thought process was his own family. De Grasse and his girlfriend Nia Ali, an Olympic silver medallist in the 100-metre hurdles, are parents to daughter Yuri, who was born in July.
"That was a little bit of a part of the decision as well, she didn’t want to stay in Arizona, and I wanted to be close to my daughter as well," De Grasse said. "She believed in Rana as a coach, because he can coach hurdles."
He enjoyed his first Christmas as a new dad.
"It was interesting because at first (Yuri) was smiling, but later on she got tired of it and starting crying. But it was pretty cool."
De Grasse has largely been out of the spotlight since he raced to three Olympic medals in Rio, but doesn’t feel he has anything to prove in his return.
"People still look up to me and believe that I’m going to heal like any other sport," De Grasse said. "That’s kind of how I look at it, and it gives me motivation and confidence to say OK, I can turn things around."
De Grasse’s basketball tournament, meanwhile, has grown from 20 teams in its inaugural year to 45 teams and 600 players this year, forcing organizers to add a second court.
Basketball was the sprint star’s first love. He’s talked about playing against Minnesota star Andrew Wiggins, took the court for the celebrity game as part of last season’s NBA All-Star weekend, and in high school was CityTV’s athlete of the week.