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Andre De Grasse celebrates after winning the men's 200 meters event at the Golden Spike athletics IAAF World Challenge in Ostrava, Czech Republic, in June.JAROSLAV OZANA/The Associated Press

Via Rail Train 068 was pulling into Montreal Central Station late Wednesday night when the woman who had been seated behind sprinter Andre De Grasse for the previous five hours poked her head up to wish him good luck.

“My son runs track,” she told him. “We’re all pulling for you, Andre.”

It seemed for a while that few people were pulling for him. Some wrote him off altogether.

But the three-time Olympic medalist is running injury-free and faster than he has in a long time, finally rebounding from the back-to-back hamstring injuries that had people doubting if he’d ever be back – including himself.

“At the time when I got injured, I felt depressed, I felt like life was over,” De Grasse said. “The first [injury], I didn’t think like that, but then to get injured a second time …

“And you never hear about people coming back from hamstring injuries, I kept hearing, ‘Once you tear your hamstring, you’re done, you’re never the same.’ You have those thoughts, you hear people saying that, it takes a toll on you a little bit.”

The 24-year-old from Markham, Ont., will be gunning to regain his 100-metre title at the Canadian championships this week in Montreal, the same meet that saw him reinjure his hamstring last summer, prematurely ending his season. He first injured the hamstring days before the 2017 world championship and a much-anticipated rematch against Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt.

But the ability to run fast doesn’t just disappear.

“If you hurt yourself, you’re not just done, you don’t suddenly wake up slow,” said Mikhile Jeremiah, the friend now famous for first urging De Grasse to try racing in a Toronto high-school meet.

“Everyone thought, ‘Double injury, De Grasse is done,’ ” Jeremiah said. “I’m like, yo, this track stuff comes in a wave … when you come down you acknowledge it, and then how far you shoot back up again is what makes you different from the others.”

De Grasse is aiming high after a solid start to the season that already shattered his goals.

“This year, I just wanted to compete healthy and just get back on the track,” he said.


“Let’s focus on the world championships, get back on the podium, compete for a medal. I think that’s possible,” he said. “This weekend will be a good test.”

Wearing a grey Puma hoodie pulled up over his head, De Grasse spent much of Wednesday’s train ride listening to music and scrolling through social media. He chuckled at Kawhi Leonard’s introductory Clippers news conference, where the one-and-done Raptors star thanked Toronto.

He peered at the Tokyo Olympic medals that were unveiled Wednesday, a year out from the opening of the Games. He says he believes he can win one.

De Grasse’s turnaround comes after some big changes in his life. He and his girlfriend, Nia Ali – an American hurdler who’s competing in the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships this weekend – have a daughter who recently turned 1. Her first name, Yuri, means “light of God.” Her middle name, Zen, reflects peace. Spoken together, De Grasse points out, Yuri Zen sounds like “your reason.”

“Like our reason why,” he said.

De Grasse also upended his training program, leaving Phoenix and coach Stuart McMillan to move to Jacksonville, Fla., to work with Rana Reider.

He’s had a fast start to his season, running the 200 metres in 19.91 seconds, and dipping under the 10-second mark in the 100 metres for the first time since the 2016 Rio Games at the Diamond League stop in London last Saturday.

A big chunk of his road back was rebuilding his confidence.

“It took a while, I think it was me being scared as well, mentally,” he said. “[Reider] didn’t want to push me too much, so at the beginning we didn’t do much speed, we just did a lot of longer runs, endurance runs, slower-tempo pace to build back muscle, build back stamina because I’d been off for so long.

“We just actually started doing some speed like two weeks ago. It’s been good, I just have to trust the process and not say, ‘Why are we doing this?’ New coach, new situation, I just have to leave it all in his hands and do my part.”

Both the baby and his injuries have De Grasse appreciating the moment more.

“It’s crazy because even through all the injuries and everything, I’m still amazed, life is still good to me,” he said. “When you’re just running, it’s all a blur. But when you take a second, when I got injured I took a second to just think of all the things I’d done, and appreciate it all, it was like, ‘Wow,’ no words.

“And now I have a kid who doesn’t care, just looks at me every day and smiles and laughs, it made me realize it’s not so bad at all.”

Jeremiah, one of a few close friends who travel with De Grasse periodically, recalled the day he convinced his friend to race in a high-school meet. The story has been retold numerous times: De Grasse raced to a time of 10.91 seconds in baggy basketball shorts and from a standing start.

Jeremiah didn’t see the race. When he saw the times, he figured there’d been a mix-up.

“I saw Andre’s name up there with some of the top guys in the region, and I was like, ‘Hold on, we’ve got to redo this whole thing,’ ” Jeremiah said with a laugh. “But he went on to the finals, and he ran the same 10.91 and I actually saw it.”

Part of his success, his friend believes, is his naïveté. De Grasse wasn’t a track fan growing up. He came to the sport from basketball.

“What makes him so gifted is he got into it as a surprise, it makes him so unaware of how good he is, and because he’s so unaware, he’s like, ‘I’m just going to run. Why are you overthinking it, I’m just going to do it,’ ” Jeremiah said. “Not really intimidated by anyone.”

The landscape of sprinting has changed since De Grasse’s grinning showdown with Bolt at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Christian Coleman (9.81 seconds), 22-year-old rising star Noah Lyles (9.86) and Divine Oduduru of Nigeria (9.86) have the world’s three-fastest times.

Lyles, Michael Norman and Oduru, who won both the 100 metres and 200 metres at the NCAA championships, top the 200-metre list. De Grasse is seventh. Fourteen sprinters have run faster than him in the 100 metres.

While De Grasse never got another chance to battle Bolt, he loosely followed the retired sprinter’s soccer exploits. The eight-time Olympic champion played some preseason matches for Australian team Central Coast Mariners.

Could De Grasse see a second pro-sports stint?

“I was joking that maybe I’d go to a G League [the NBA’s development league] team and work my way up,” De Grasse laughed. “Just joking around. Maybe. My friends give me a lot of inspiration because they’re my height and they play in Europe, so maybe G League.”

His friend Kassius Robertson played for the Charlotte Hornets in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

“Couple of other friends play in Europe. We’ll see,” De Grasse said, laughing again. “Long time from now. Hopefully I get two more Olympics.”

His recent fast times have him back in the spotlight again. A television cameraman hopped on the Via Rail train one stop before Montreal to film footage of the sprinter. At the station, fans seeking autographs thrust pens and glossy photos at him. He happily obliged despite the late-night arrival.

De Grasse’s friend and rival Aaron Brown will be the one to beat in Friday’s 100 metres at Claude Robillard Centre. Brown won the 100 metres at last summer’s Canadian championships, while De Grasse was third.

The meet will determine the team for the world championships in October in Doha.

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