Andre De Grasse voted male athlete of the year

Andre De Grasse

Sprinter Andre De Grasse, who raced to three Olympic medals in Rio last summer, has been voted the winner of the Lionel Conacher Award as the Canadian Press male athlete of 2016.

De Grasse of  Markham, Ontario, earned 43 votes (66 per cent) in the annual survey of editors and broadcasters from across Canada..

Placing  second with 18 votes (28 per cent)  was Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby

High jumper Derek Drouin, who won  gold in Rio, earned two votes, while Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers and tennis star Milos Raonic each received one.

In the Rio Olympics, De Grasse  won silver in the 200 metres and bronze in both the 100 and 4×100-metre relay.

The 21-year old athlete whose mother is a Trinidadian and father, a Barbadian,   had competed against Usain Bolt in their 200-metre semi-final while six other sprinter strained to keep up

“ Andre De Grasse did something we haven’t seen in a generation and he did it with such a sense of enjoyment,” said Bev Wake, Postmedia’s senior executive producer of sports. “With Usain Bolt the best sprinter in history, finishing second in the 200-metre race was almost as good as gold.”

What made De Grasse’s feat truly remarkable, according to coach Stu McMillan, is that it came in just his second year of solid training at the end of a season that saw several significant life changes. He turned pro at this time last season, signing a historic US$11.25-million deal with Puma. He also left the University of Southern California to move to Phoenix to train with McMillan and the Altis program. His training environment exploded from the one sprinter he worked with at USC to being part of a program that is home to about 100 of the world’s top athletes.

“That he was able to come out of that season with all of those things on top of him, and still have three Olympic medals is pretty incredible really,” McMillan said.

De Grasse, who once had dreams of playing in the NBA and played against Minnesota Timberwolves star Andrew Wiggins growing up, was  discovered by track coach Tony Sharpe at a high school meet he raced on a whim. He made the track world sit up and take notice in 2015 when he won both the 100 and 200 at the NCAA championships and the Pan American Games in Toronto.

“I just try to have a lot of fun when I’m competing because I know how hard it is during training,” De Grasse said. “And there are always going to be ups and downs with sports, but I have to remember to always just be motivated because I know I inspire a lot of people, and I want to show them it’s a fun sport, I want to lift up the sport, especially in Canada.”

De Grasse recently completed his sociology degree at the University of Southern California, keeping a promise he made to his mom.

The  Conacher Award  has been handed out since 1932. The illustrious list of past winners includes Steve Nash, who won it three times, Sidney  Crosby (three), and Wayne Gretzky (seven). Jonathan Bailey was the last track and field athlete to win it .