Nicolas Macrozonaris’s first car was a fluorescent green 1993 Ford Tempo that he bought for $800 and four pairs of Oakley sunglasses.

 

Nicolas Macrozonaris’s first car was a fluorescent green 1993 Ford Tempo that he bought for $800 and four pairs of Oakley sunglasses.

It was 2002, and the beginning of a rags-to-riches couple of years that saw the 22-year-old become one of the world’s top sprinters.

Macrozonaris had spotted the car with a “For Sale” sign in the window at a Montreal corner store. The owner was asking $2,200. Macrozonaris didn’t have it. In need of wheels to get to and from training, he offered to sweeten the deal with a few pairs of sunglasses from Oakley, one of his first sponsors.

“We met, and he starts trying on these glasses. Some are super extreme, you know the skater, crazy, fluorescent glasses. And he’s like 65, and he put them on and he looks crazy. And he looked at me and asked ‘How do I look?’ I said ‘You look great, man,'” Macrozonaris said, laughing.

 

Macrozonaris is 37 now and still running — figuratively, if not literally. The two-time Olympian and five-time national champion is vying for a seat on city council in Laval, Que., as part of Jean-Claude Gobe’s Action Laval party. Representing the opposition party, he’s working with a shoestring budget. But he’s well-versed in getting by on little.

This past weekend, Macrozonaris enlisted his athletes — he runs his own track club Final Push in Montreal — to help him hand out pamphlets to the 7,000 constituents in his Sainte-Dorothee riding. Among his concerns is the lack of decent sport facilities in the riding.

He canvases door-to-door, dressed in his white and red Canada jacket from the 2004 Olympic closing ceremonies. He poses for photos with his constituents, and then sends them a copy.

“It’s so interesting because it’s just like a competition, you find yourself being super motivated,” he said. “Literally I’m working hard going door-to-door, talking to people, in the middle of the night putting up my signs, the next day doing grocery stores, and I’m just trying to catch up for all the time I lost.”

He officially entered the race in late September. The election is Nov. 5.

“A reporter told me ‘Politics is tough,’ but I said ‘When you’re doing stuff for the right reasons, it is easy,'” he said. “People might say ‘Nic, aren’t you tired?’ but you find this energy because when you’re passionate, or you find something really intriguing, or you’re really excited about something, it’s almost an unlimited amount of energy. I’m in that stage in my life where I have an enormous amount of energy.”

Macrozonaris was touted as the future of Canadian sprinting when he earned a spot on the Sydney Olympic team at 19. Behind the scenes, he was just scraping by. His parents had recently divorced and he was sharing a bed with his brother in a small Montreal apartment. He was exchanging gas station reward points for sandwiches.

And then he beat American Tim Montgomery, the world record-holder at the time, in a 100-metre race in Mexico City, crossing in 10.03 seconds. Off the track, his life was changing at a breakneck pace. He threw out the first pitch at a Montreal Expos game. He upgraded to a Lexus, which he would later sell to buy his mom Doris a condo less than 100 metres from his own. He rubbed shoulders with people like Prince Albert II of Monaco.

“Literally my life completely changed from eating sandwiches with Petro Points to hanging out at nice restaurants where the Prince eats. Any 22-year-old that goes through that process, I don’t care how well-structured you are, it’s going to mess you up,” Macrozonaris said. “I was living with my brother, so no structure, no guidance. And it’s easy to kind of lose track, and be a little bit of a wrecking ball, and thinking you know everything.”

Macrozonaris butted heads with coach Glenroy Gilbert, and lost his spot on the 4×100 relay team at the 2003 world championships.

His 10.03 — he missed dipping under sub-10 by barely the beat of a hummingbird’s wings — would go down as his career best when he retired in 2010. Regrets? He recalled a heart-to-heart he had with a friend at the height of his career.

“He said to me ‘Nic, the No. 1 thing you don’t want to do is know that you didn’t give your 100 per cent, because after you retire it’s going to haunt you for a long time,'” he said. “So I said to myself ‘There’s no way I’m going to start slacking off, and then at 35 say to myself ‘I could have, I should have, but I didn’t.’

“I gave my 100 per cent, I did it cleanly, and that was the best I was able to do. I’m satisfied with everything I was able to accomplish in the circumstances, and have no regrets, there’s no chip on my shoulder. I’m very content with everything I’ve done.”

Soon after retirement, Macrozonaris began volunteering at a community centre in his neighbourhood, and then joined its board of directors. It was through that work that he met Gobe.

He started his track club in 2015, and boasts several top young sprinters, including Praise Omogbai, the Canadian 100-metre champion in the 14-15 age category.

He’s a big fan of the sport, particularly Canada’s sprint star Andre De Grasse.

“I think Andre is a phenomenal athlete. I struggled all my life to try to run personal bests where it counts. And it’s extremely difficult to be able to pull that off. And he’s able to be an executioner at the highest level, and that is something that is remarkable,” Macrozonaris said. “And I think the stigma that you have to be six foot five to be a superstar is all of a sudden doubted, because here we have a guy who’s relatively short, he’s relatively small, and he’s doing things that are incredible.

“Beyond that, just track and field in Canada, the bronze that they got (in the 4×100 relay) in the last Olympics,” he said. “I wish I had that generation of sprinting, because they are so strong and so powerful.”

 

 

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November 8, 2017

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