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Black History Month in Canada… Donovan Anthony Bailey

As a Canadian sprinter, Donovan Bailey set records at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Donovan Anthony Bailey – Olympian Hero

Donovan Anthony Bailey, Oakville Ont., track and field sprinter (born 16 December 1967 in Manchester Parish, Jamaica). Donovan Bailey won the gold medal for Canada in the men’s 100m at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia, and set a world record with a time of 9.84 seconds. He later won a second Olympic gold medal when he led Team Canada to a first-place finish in the men’s 4x100m relay. During his athletic career, he also won four medals (three gold and one silver) at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships.

Donovan Bailey was born in Manchester Parish, in the mountainous region of Jamaica, the fourth of five sons to George and Daisy Bailey. Before going to Mount Olivet Primary School each morning, Donovan would take care of the family’s pigs, chickens, and goats.

Donovan visited Canada when he was seven years old and moved to Canada when he was 12. He settled in Oakville, Ontario, with his father and his older brother, O’Neil, and attended Queen Elizabeth Park High School. O’Neil Bailey was an outstanding track and field athlete who won the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations Outdoor Provincial Championships four times in boys’ long jump (1980, 1981, 1982 and 1984). O’Neil also excelled in the 100m and football, where he was a star high school halfback. Donovan was also a fast runner in high school, having clocked 10.65 seconds in the men’s 100m at the age of 16. However, his primary passion and focus was basketball.

After graduating from high school, Bailey attended Sheridan College in Oakville and earned a diploma in business administration, with a focus on marketing and economics. During the 1986–87 school year, Bailey played basketball as a forward for the Sheridan Bruins in the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association.

After graduating from Sheridan College, Bailey worked as a property and marketing consultant and had a business of importing and exporting clothing. By the age of 22, he owned a house and a Porsche 911 convertible.

“I could have left high school and run track right away, but that wasn’t what I wanted,” Bailey told Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated in 1996. “I wanted a nice house, money, fast cars. I was taught to work real hard, to work on my own.”

In 1990, Bailey was watching the Canadian Track & Field Championships when he noticed that some of the competitors were athletes he had beaten in high school. This motivated him to return to competitive sprinting on a part-time basis.

In 1991, Bailey won the 60m race at the Ontario indoor championships and was chosen to represent Canada at the 1991 Pan American Games in Havana, Cuba, where he won a silver medal as part of the men’s 4x100m relay.

At the 1992 Canadian Track & Field Championships, Bailey finished second in the men’s 100m. The following year, he won bronze in the 100m and silver in the 200m at the national championships.

Despite his success at the national level, Bailey did not represent Canada at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona and was only an alternate for the Canadian relay team at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.

Bailey was upset by these decisions and, while in Stuttgart, he complained to anyone who would listen, including Dan Pfaff, who coached Bailey’s high-school friend Glenroy Gilbert. Pfaff, an assistant track coach at Louisiana State University (LSU), told Kenny Moore of Sports Illustrated in 1995, “I’ve never seen anyone run so fast who looked so bad.” He invited Bailey to train with Gilbert at LSU.

According to Pfaff, Bailey wasn’t fit and had terrible form. After three months of coaching, weightlifting and sprint training and an improved diet, Bailey was able to cut one-third of a second off his 100m time and ran 10.03 seconds at the Duisburg track meet in Germany in June 1994.

At the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta, Bailey was a strong contender in a very competitive men’s 100m. In addition to Bruny Surin, Michael Marsh and Linford Christie, the field included Fredericks (who had beaten Bailey in Lausanne), Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Tobago (the reigning World Championships bronze medallist), Michael Green of Jamaica (the reigning Commonwealth Games silver medallist) and Dennis Mitchell of the United States (the reigning Goodwill Games champion).

Bailey won his opening heat of the Olympic Games on 26 July 1996 but finished second to Christie in his quarter-final heat and second to Fredericks in his semifinal heat. Surin, meanwhile, finished a surprising fifth in his semifinal heat and failed to make the final. In the men’s 100m Olympic final on 27 July 1996, Christie was disqualified for two false starts. With the competition down to seven sprinters, Bailey once again got off to a slower start, but by the middle of the race, he had the most energy and momentum. He caught the halfway leaders, Boldon and Mitchell, and beat Fredericks by five one-hundredths of a second to win Olympic gold.

Bailey’s winning time of 9.84 seconds was also a world record at the time. Even though he no longer holds the world record for the men’s 100m, Bailey is currently tied with Surin as the Canadian record holder in distance. Bailey became the second Canadian to win the Olympic gold medal in the men’s 100m, following Percy Williams of Vancouver, British Columbia, who won gold at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam.

Bailey won a second gold medal in Atlanta in the men’s 4x100m relay. Bailey, Surin, Gilbert, and Esmie ran an outstanding final relay on 3 August 1996, defeating the favored American squad that included two sprinters (Mitchell and Marsh) from the men’s 100m final.

The Canadian team got off to a great start, and by the time Surin handed the baton over to Bailey, he lifted his hands in the air, knowing that Canada would win. Right before Bailey crossed the finish line, Don Wittman of CBC Sports reported: “If you’re Canadian, you have to love Saturday nights in Georgia!”

Donovan Bailey - 1996 Olympic Champion
Donovan Bailey – 1996 Olympic Champion

Today’s Sources:

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                                  https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/donovan-bailey/