Canadian sprint star De Grasse excited for chance to race in Toronto again

TORONTO — The Pan American Games were a coming-out party for Andre De Grasse.

The 23-year sprinter was coming off an excellent college career, but had yet to win any major international medals. But he raced to a pair of gold medals at the Games in Toronto — and into the public consciousness — in front of a roaring crowd at York University.

"As soon as I got out there (on the track), it was just packed, the crowd was going crazy, the atmosphere was just amazing, so to be able to be a part of that, and experience that, it was an awesome feeling for me," De Grasse said.

The three-time Olympic medallist spoke at the Track & Field Takeover at Nathan Phillips Square on Tuesday, an event both to promote the NACAC championships in Toronto in August, and give people an up close and personal look at the sport.

De Grasse backed off his competitive schedule to continue his comeback from last summer‘s hamstring injury, so the Markham, Ont., native didn‘t race the 60 metres in Tuesday‘s showcase held in the shadow of Toronto‘s city hall. But he‘d love to repeat his Pan Am feat when Toronto hosts international track again at Varsity Stadium in August.

"To win two gold medals there, it was an unreal moment for me, now to get that chance again to compete at NACACs, I just hope for the same outcome because I never thought I‘d have that opportunity to do it twice in my career," De Grasse said. "(NACAC) is at a smaller stadium, but the atmosphere will be the same, it‘s in the heart of the city, it‘s Toronto, people will be able to come out and enjoy it and have a good time."

The NACAC championships will feature 600 athletes from North America, Central America and the Caribbean, and the winners there automatically qualify for both next summer‘s world championships in Doha, and the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.

NACAC president Victor Lopez said he expects top fields for the meet.

"We‘ve met with a lot of world-class athletes . . . with agents, manager and athletes representatives, and all the major U.S. athletes will be here. I spoke to Cuba this morning, and the top Cuban team is going to be here," Lopez said at a morning news conference.

De Grasse, who will next race at the Harry Jerome Classic, June 26-27 in Vancouver, spent much of Tuesday‘s event, which borrowed from similar "street meets" that are popular in Europe, talking to fans and signing autographs at the sun-soaked Nathan Phillips Square.

"I kind of wish I was competing, but it‘s fun just watching it and interacting with all the fans," he said.