Pickering Speed Academy's Tony Sharpe, Xahria Santiago honoured by Athletics Canada

Former club member Andre De Grasse recognized for Olympic performance

AJAX — The Speed Academy in Pickering has been rewarded for another excellent year, dominating the annual awards given out by Athletics Canada.

Head coach Tony Sharpe, a former Olympic medallist, has been named the development coach of the year for the second time in three years, while one of his current athletes, Xahria Santiago of Ajax, has been honoured as the youth athlete of the year.

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Sprinter a medal contender for Pan Am Games

CALIFORNIA — Sprinter Andre de Grasse isn’t sure where his success on the track is going to take him, but he hasn’t forgot where it all started.

After winning the sprint double at the NCAA championships in both the 100m and 200m as a junior for the University of Southern California, de Grasse was asked during a conference call with media members from across the country when he realized he had the skill and the talent to succeed at this level.

He didn’t hesitate to give props to head coach Tony Sharpe at the Pickering-based Speed Academy, where it all began.

“My coach Tony Sharpe, him saying that I could be great in this sport. I don’t think anybody really told me that, especially when I played basketball, that I could be great,” said de Grasse, who will be representing Canada at the upcoming Pan Am Games. “They told me I could be good, I could be a Division-I athlete. They didn’t tell me I could go to the NBA.

“But (Sharpe) told me I could be great. I could go to the Olympics and do great things. That stuck out to me and that’s why I stuck with the sport and continue to excel in it.”

Sharpe recruited de Grasse for his club after seeing him run the 100m for the first time at a meet, standing upright and sideways staring at the starter instead of getting into the starting blocks, and running with basketball shoes on.

Two years at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas preceded de Grasse’s scholarship to USC, where he still has another year of eligibility remaining.

The Markham resident set new Canadian records in both the indoor and outdoor 200m this season, and is the first Canadian to run a sub-10 second 100m since Bruny Surin in 1999. His winning times at the NCAA championships were wind-aided, but impressive, running a 9.75 in the 100m and stopping the clock in 19.58 in the 200m.

He has already achieved the standard for the world championships that will be held in Beijing, China, in August, where he plans to run the 100m and the 4x100m relay. At the Pan Am Games in July he is slated to run the 100m, 200m and the 4x100m relay events.

“I’m definitely looking forward to coming back home,” he said of running at the Pan Ams. “I miss my family and friends. This is probably going to be the first time that they actually get to see me compete at home. For my family and friends to get to see me compete on a big stage, I’m looking forward to that.”

de Grasse referenced another local connection, noting that he uses Pickering’s Anson Henry as a role model to mentor him, drawing on the sprinter’s experience on the international stage during his lengthy career. Henry competed for Canada at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.