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Gilbert said De Grasse's big-game mentality will help him at post-COVID worlds

From left, Benjamin Azamati from Ghana, Andre De Grasse from Canada and Akani Simbine from South Africa compete in the men's 100 meters race during the Diamond League Bislett Games, in Oslo, Norway, Thursday, June 16, 2022. De Grasse will miss the Canadian track and field championships this week after testing positive for COVID-19. The six-time Olympic medallist was rounding into form, winning the 100 metres at the Oslo Diamond League meet last week in a season’s best 10.05 seconds. (Stian Lysberg Solum/NTB Scanpix via AP)

LANGLEY, B.C. — Glenroy Gilbert is confident Andre De Grasse's positive COVID-19 won't derail his performance at next month's world track and field championships.

Athletics Canada's head coach said his ability to perform when the stakes are highest will help him.

"Andre is not the kind of guy that needs a lot," Gilbert said at the Canadian track and field championships on Thursday. "He can compete. We know that. And as long as he's confident in the work that he's done to get to Eugene — and he's run fast on that (Hayward Field) track too, always important to remember that — I think that he'll be good."

De Grasse withdrew from the Canadian championships on Monday after testing positive for COVID-19. He traditionally starts the season slowly and an early-season foot injury added to his struggles in his first few races. He finished ninth at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene in May.

He was finally rounding into form last week, running a season's best 10.05 seconds to win the Oslo Diamond League.

"He's very kind of lighthearted in a lot of ways and the way he looks at things," Gilbert said of his conversation with De Grasse this week. "He was, of course, a little concerned, not at the fact that he got COVID, but suddenly he was gaining momentum and then something like this happened. 

"But he's feeling much better, things are coming along. A lot of these athletes have had COVID and have recovered from it and are back out here doing what they love to do," he added, gesturing to the dozens of athletes training at McLeod Athletic Park. "So, the hope is that he has the same circumstance for his situation."

Gilbert said injuries and slow starts are common after an Olympic year, and several of Canada's top athletes are dealing with injuries. Olympic decathlon champion Damian Warner sat out the national meet with a sore knee, while Moh Ahmed, the silver medallist in the 5,000 in Tokyo, also received an injury exemption. Distance runners Gabriela DeBues-Stafford and Justyn Knight have shut down their seasons due to injury.

That's why, in a busy summer that includes world championships, the Commonwealth Games and the NACAC championships, Gilbert said Athletics Canada has instructed athletes to pick and choose. De Grasse is only expected to run the 4x100 relay at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, which are a couple of weeks after the worlds.

De Grasse's positive test more than two years into the pandemic is a reminder that the virus can still potentially still derail an athlete's season.

Athletics Canada's high performance director Simon Nathan said that with precautions at the Tokyo Olympics including masking and social distancing, the Canadian team suffered fewer infections there than at previous Games.

"So, we’re advising people to carry on wherever you fly, regardless of the rules, wear a mask, wash your hands, all those things and make them a habit and hopefully in 10 years time, people will still be doing that, regardless of the other pieces," Nathan said. "But there is still a bit of a lottery effect as to who picks it up and who doesn’t.”

The world championships are July 15-24 at Eugene, Ore., known in the sport as "TrackTown USA."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2022.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press