A few hours after her partner, Andre De Grasse, blazed past his fellow sprinters to take gold in the men’s 200-metre final at the Tokyo Olympics, Nia Ali declared that his win would finally put an end to the good-natured ribbing he’d been getting ever since she won a gold medal in the 100-metre hurdles at the 2019 world championships.
“It was an ongoing joke that I was the only gold medalist in the household, so he had to catch up,” the American hurdler said in an interview. “So, a lot of his friends and family would always joke about that and ask, ‘When’s he going to catch up?’ [and tell Andre] ‘You know you’ve got to go get a gold!’
“So I think it’s just funny now that he actually went out there and did it, and it’s, like – ah, the feat is complete! It’s double gold! ‘You guys are on an even playing field!’ ”
Still, Ms. Ali said, the fact that her victory wasn’t in an Olympic competition inspires her now to “get back on the horse” after taking some time away from sport to have another child with Mr. De Grasse, a son born in May.
“That just pushes me even more to say, hey, I’m not done yet,” Ms. Ali said. “We really inspire each other to just be our best selves.”
On Wednesday, Mr. De Grasse finally became his own best self, notching a personal best – and a Canadian record time – of 19.62 seconds. It was the manifestation of what had been foretold ever since the famous day he was discovered in 2012. He had tagged along with a friend to a high-school track meet and, running the 100-m sprint in borrowed shoes, snagged the attention of Tony Sharpe, a former bronze-medal Olympic sprinter who founded Speed Academy, a training facility in Pickering, Ont.
Mr. Sharpe had given Mr. De Grasse his business card. Two days later, the aspiring sprinter showed up at Speed Academy with his mother, Beverley.
Four years later, Mr. De Grasse won a pair of bronzes at the 2016 Rio Olympics, as well as a silver medal in the 200-m with a time of 20.02 seconds, second only to Usain Bolt, who finished in 19.78 seconds.
Asked by reporters what he had first seen in Mr. De Grasse, Mr. Sharpe said on Wednesday: “It’s just a God-given gift that he was born with. I’ve been in the game a long time, and what Andre was able to accomplish in the first year of formal coaching, it just doesn’t happen.”
Still, he said, it was Mr. De Grasse’s work ethic and character that made the difference over the subsequent nine years of toil.
“I call track and field ‘the boot camp’ of all sports. I mean, why are you running around, running around, dropping to the ground, vomiting and puking and coming back and doing it again tomorrow? That’s not a lot of fun, you know? So you have to have that certain character in you to see the big, longer objective.”
Mr. Sharpe spoke at a news conference held outside the Pickering home of Beverley De Grasse, who told reporters she was still having trouble believing her son’s feat.
“I feel like I’m on a high and I don’t know how to come down,” she said. “You know, even though I was expecting it, it was just still so surreal to really witness it. Wow.” After the race, she said, she and her son had a brief video call in which he told her, beaming: “I finally did it, Mom!”
Five years ago, Beverley was the first person in the stands whom Andre hugged after his race with Mr. Bolt, and on Wednesday she acknowledged it had been difficult to watch the Games on TV, from thousands of miles away, especially knowing COVID was nibbling at the edges of the Olympic Village.
“He’s used to having us there,” she said.
Still, nothing could wipe the smile off of her face. When Mr. De Grasse returns after the Games, she promised, “We’re gonna throw a big party with all the family and friends.”