Donovan Bailey, former world’s quickest man, operating again to Saskatoon
It’s a moment many Canadians still remember.
At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey crossed the finish line first in the 100-metre final, and many recalled the look of surprise and joy on Bailey’s face after learning he’d set a new world record while claiming the gold .
After that moment came the heated rivalry with Michael Johnson, and their head-to-head race for the title of fastest man alive.
But what some may not know is that Bailey has a special connection with Saskatoon, as his career took off in the Saskatchewan city years before the gold medal was draped around his neck in Atlanta.
Bailey first came to the city in 1991 to compete at the Knights of Columbus Indoor Games. He said the cold weather was a shock to his system, but he knew the event could help take his track career to the next level.
“Saskatoon will always have a special place in my life, a special place in the journey to be the fastest human being on the planet,” Bailey said.
He said competing in the 60-metre race in Saskatoon against Canada’s best sprinters helped him appreciate just how far he’d come in his athletic career, and how far he could go.
Bailey competed in five Knights of Columbus Indoor Games, and took the opportunity to catch up with reporters in Saskatoon before this year’s event, which runs from Thursday through Saturday at the Saskatoon Field House.
Atlanta is where he set the world record for the 100-metre distance and captured his first Olympic gold, but it also came with controversy. Johnson was dubbed the fastest man in the world by his coaches and some American media after he won the 200-metre race.
Bailey and Johnson ultimately ran a 150-metre race in Toronto in 1997 to decide a winner. Bailey won the race, which Johnson did not finish. After the head-to-head race, Bailey infamously called Johnson a chicken after the American pulled up in the middle of the run with an apparent injury.
While there was always fiery competition between the two, Bailey said he still had a lot of respect for Johnson.
“I’m a fan of Michael,” Bailey said. “At the end of the day, Michael is one of the best speed endurance guys who ever lived. But 100 meters is a different event.”
Regarding the controversial comment he made in 1997, Bailey reflected that he would probably say it again, as there was a lot of emotion and adrenaline flowing after the race, but he did ultimately apologize for his choice of words.
And although Bailey had some kind words for Johnson, he went on to compare himself to a Ferrari and Johnson to a Prius.
While the Canadian legend definitely still has a competitive edge to him, he said he’s also ready for some of his records to be broken.
Bailey still holds the world and Canadian record for the indoor 50-metre dash, and the Canadian record for the 100-metre event. While he’s proud of his achievements, he said he wants other Canadian runners to succeed as well.
“I just want them to do good, and if doing good means a couple of my records are going to go, it’s OK,” Bailey said.
“The gold medals, I still have them, so it’s OK. It’s their turn to get some gold medals and some records.”
Track and field is much different today compared to when he was competing in the sport, Bailey said, particularly with all of the new tools in the hands of athletes, including social media.
“I wish we had social media then,” Bailey said with a laugh. “I’d have about 500 million followers. I’d have some Kardashian numbers, for real.”
He said social media offers a great way to attract more fans and expose athletes to the world.
But even though he cherishes the memories of his glory days, Bailey said he also hopes to push today’s track athletes forward.
His Pass the Baton Foundation gives out annual scholarships, and Bailey said he believes every single Canadian should mentor a child.
“I’m endorsing the young sprinters,” Bailey said. “I’m hugging the young sprinters and I’m their greatest cheerleader, because all I want them to do is to make sure they put the work in and show up at major championships and beat people.”
Bailey says he has no regrets about retiring from track, but that doesn’t mean he’s no longer working. In fact, he intends to publish his memoirs this summer.