By Lori Ewing
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Young, fast and rich.
Canadian sprint sensation Andre De Grasse made track and field history Friday, signing the most lucrative initial contract ever in the sport.
The 21-year-old from Markham, Ont., inked a multi-year deal with Puma worth approximately US$11.25 million. With bonuses, he could earn as much as US$30 million, his agency Doyle Management told The Canadian Press.
“A lot of stress has been lifted off my shoulders and I’m happy now,” De Grasse said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “(The decision to go pro) was very difficult. I didn’t really know what I was going to be able to do, if I was going to be able to stay in school, or turn professional, how much money I could make. Everything was just going through my mind. That was kind of mind-boggling.”
The contract comes with guarantees in excess of US$4 million _ if he were to suffer a career-ending injury next week, that’s how much he’d earn.
De Grasse is coming off a spectacular season that saw him win bronze in the 100 metres at the world championships at just 20 years old. He also swept gold in the 100 and 200 metres at both the Pan American Games and the NCAA championships for the USC Trojans.
Dozens of agents were clamouring to work with De Grasse, with contract offers coming in way back in March after his NCAA performance. But De Grasse wavered for months.
The moment that tipped his decision?
“When I found out how much I could make,” he said candidly. “Before I really didn’t know the numbers, and thought maybe it was worth staying at USC and competing NCAA. But now that I realized how much I could make, and I’ve already accomplished so much in the NCAA, I felt like it was really time to go.”
So far he’s treated himself to a new Honda Accord.
“Then just taking care of my mom and my family, that’s the main goal right now,” he said. “Keeping it simple, not doing anything really out of the ordinary.”
His professional deal means he must forgo his senior season of eligibility, but he’ll continue to work with USC coach Caryl Smith-Gilbert while he completes his degree.
“Andre has risen to the top of the sport very quickly and I’m both happy and proud that USC could be a part of his journey,” Smith-Gilbert said. “What Andre accomplished in his short time here at USC was nothing short of amazing, and we look to support him in any way possible as he embarks on his professional career.”
The opportunity to stay in school, he said, and graduate with a sociology degree in May was key to his decision.
“I really wanted to have my backup plan, just in case,” he said. “I wanted to finish and get that out of the way now, rather than later. I’m going to still be working with Caryl and USC, they’ve been very supportive of me here as well.”
De Grasse joins a star-studded group of Puma sprinters that includes Jamaican stars Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell. Bolt re-signed with Puma in 2013 for an estimated US$10 million a year, a contract that will take him to the end of his career. The world record-holder in the 100 and 200 metres signed with Puma as a teenager.
Now, with Bolt winding down his career, Puma has found the ideal replacement. And De Grasse is a marketer’s dream, a track and field version of basketball star Andrew Wiggins _ young, humble, likable and oozing with potential. And the 100 metres is the glamour event of the Olympics, a race that determines the world’s fastest man.
“I feel like I want to be the next guy,” De Grasse said. “It’s sad to say that Usain Bolt might have only one or two years left in the sport, and we’re all going to miss him. But I definitely thought signing with Puma was a great choice (for me).”
De Grasse became just the third Canadian to break the 10-second barrier in the 100 metres behind Donovan 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 this past season.
He got a late start to the sport, running his first track meet in Grade 12 after a childhood of playing soccer and basketball. His first coach Tony Sharpe spotted him at a meet at York University.
Sharpe said Friday the decision to go pro was the “right thing to do at the right time.”
“It’s going to be a busy time but I think it’s a win all around. One semester to go, managing school work and focusing on track,” Sharpe said. “Hopefully the demand from any potential sponsors won’t interfere with training time, because you can’t lose sight of the goal to get to Rio and perform.
“But he’s a humble kid, and I think that helps, and his character is pretty low-key, so hopefully he retains that humble demeanour and I think he’ll be fine.”