Andre De Grasse was caught off-guard when he was swarmed by excited children at last year's Harry Jerome International Track Classic. They thrust paper and pens in his direction, and pleaded for selfies.
The Canadian star sprinter announced Thursday he will compete at the Harry Jerome on June 28 — and this year he'll be ready for the onslaught.
De Grasse, who trains in Phoenix, had been unaware of his popularity, he said, until a couple of appearances in Canada last summer, including the Harry Jerome meet.
"I have to admit I was a little bit surprised, overwhelmed," he said on a conference call. "Now I kind of know. I'm kind of adjusted to it, it's still fun for me and it's good to see the kids and their faces light up and how excited they are to see me. I enjoy the moment."
The 22-year-old from Markham, Ont., will gladly do what he can to help grow the sport at home.
"It's very important to me," De Grasse said. "I don't get the chance to compete a lot in Canada, and Canada has a lot of my fan support base, so I always want to come out and represent the country, and get a chance for the fans to meet me and take pictures and sign autographs with them because I just enjoy their appreciation of the sport.
"Every time I get the opportunity to compete in Canada, that's what I want to do.
De Grasse won the 100 and 200 metres at last year's Harry Jerome meet while preparing for the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he won a silver medal in the 200 metres and bronze in both the 100 and 4x100 relays.
The Harry Jerome has been relocated to Perry Percy Stadium in Coquitlam, B.C., from Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, B.C., where the meet had been held for several decades, but the track is in need of repair.
De Grasse will use the meet as a warm-up for the world track and field championships this August in London. He won bronze in the 100 and the 4x100 relay at the 2015 world championships in Beijing.
De Grasse vs. Usain Bolt made for some of the most memorable moments of Rio, and the two will make headlines again in London, where the Jamaican superstar might be racing for the final time.
"It's in another Olympic stadium again in London, so it's going to be packed, it's going to be loud, the atmosphere is going to be great," De Grasse said. "It's (Bolt's) last world championships so I'm looking forward to that moment, and hopefully things will go my way. We'll see."
De Grasse plans to open his season at next weekend's Florida Relays, where he'll help Canada's 4x100 relay team try to qualify for the IAAF World Relays, April 22-23 in the Bahamas.
He'll run his first individual race at the Mt. SAC Relays, April 13-15 in California.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press