He lurched awkwardly out of the starting blocks, quickly falling behind the other competitors.
Fifteen metres into the race—the final of the men’s 100-m dash at the world championships at Göteborg, Sweden—Donovan Bailey looked like he was whipped. Then, like a sports car casually revving its engines, the Canadian sprinter seemed to surge into overdrive. With each elongated stride, he began to close the gap. At 70 m, coming up behind Trinidad’s Ato Boldon,
Bailey shouted an obscenity—"“a few choice words, none of them clean,” he reported later.
Boldon said the tactic unnerved him, but it hardly mattered. By then, the outcome was certain.
While every other runner, including reigning champion Linford Christie of Britain, was fighting to maintain form, Bailey was still accelerating. He broke the tape in 9.97 seconds, a fraction ahead of fellow Canadian Bruny Surin, who nosed out Boldon to take second place. That gold-medal performance on Aug. 6 not only erased the long shadow cast over Canadian track and field by Ben Johnson’s steroid-enhanced sprints of the 1980s. It also silenced a determined chorus of skeptics. “There had been doubts that we deserved the 1-2 ranking of the world,” said Bailey afterward. “Now, the doubters have been answered.”
For Bailey, 27, who emigrated to Canada from his native Jamaica in 1981, the doubt was not so much about his ability to wear the epithet of “the world’s fastest man.”
People have marvelled at his raw talent and speed since his youth in the parish of Manchester. Instead, the issue was desire: just how seriously did Donovan Bailey take his commitment to track and field?
That was the question Dan Pfaff put to him bluntly at the world championships in Stuttgart, Germany, in the summer of 1993, three years after Bailey ostensibly began running in earnest. (In Germany, Bailey was an alternate on the men’s 4 x 100-m relay team.) Pfaff, a track coach at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, said Bailey had all the talent required to graduate into the elite ranks of worldclass sprinters. What he needed to decide, Pfaff said, was whether he was ready to work hard enough to get there. “The issue was quite simple,” Bailey recalled last week, after accepting his gold medal on the podium from Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the
A Canadian runner becomes the world’s fastest
International Olympic Committee (he also got a Mercedes-Benz). “I was told either to take my sport more seriously, or else give it up. When it was spelled out to me so starkly, I knew I had no real choice. For the first time, I began to give it my full attention.”
Bailey voted with his feet. Early the next year, he left his Oakville, Ont.-based export-import business and moved to Louisiana to train with Pfaff— beginning an intense six-days-a-week regimen with a large quota of weight training. Before the move, Baile/s best result for 100 m had been 10.33 seconds. Under Pfaff, he soon knocked three-tenths of a second off that time, broke the 10-second barrier during the indoor season, and posted the year’s best number (9.91) at the Canadian national championships in Montreal last month—just 0.06 seconds slower than the world record, currently held by American sprinter Leroy Burrell.
Now, says Marty Post, a track analyst for Runner’s World magazine, Bailey must be ranked the favorite for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. “Linford Christie is 35 and a grandfather,” says Post. “And the American sprinters are in a downswing— Leroy Burrell has already run his best race. So his main rivals will
probably be the guys he’s already beaten—Surin and Boldon.” Competition is not the only thing Bailey has managed to put behind him. Ever since Ben Johnson tested positive for anabolic steroids at the Seoul Summer Games in 1988—losing his Olympic and world championship gold medals—an ugly cloud of suspicion has hung over what used to be known as amateur athletics. Even now, with a more rigorous program of random and in-competition screening in place in many countries, suspicions linger, fed by sporadic cases of competitors failing their doping tests. Only last summer, the silver medallist in the 100-m final at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria—Horace Dove-Edwin from Sierra Leone—had his medal revoked after testing positive for steroids. As Victor Lachance, CEO of
the government-funded Canadian Centre for Drug-free Sport, acknowledges:
“Why would you have a detection system unless there was something to detect?”
Bailey has been ultrasensitive to these concerns. As a high-profile athlete in a sport where steroid use has been common, he has been tested 15 to 20 times in the past year—often with notice of 36 hours or less. Each time, he’s passed. In fact, according to his mother, Icilda Bailey, now living in Kingston, Jamaica, the sprinter is so scrupulous about the drug issue that “he won’t even take an Aspirin. He said to me, ‘I want to win for Canada and I want to win clean.’ ”
After winning the Canadian championships last month, Bailey lamented the prevailing North American attitude “that everyone who is running fast is taking steroids. Sometimes, I think [the testing] is just a headache, but if this is what I have to do to be a role model, I will.”
Lachance, whose centre conducts tests on more than 2,300 Canadian athletes a year, says Bailey’s victory validates the entire campaign. ‘We’ve earned the right to feel good again about the high performance [of a Canadian] at the international level.” Attempting finally to close the chapter on the steroid scandal, Bailey last week in Göteborg declined to discuss the issue, saying: “The Ben Johnson thing is past tense. He was before our time.”
In fact, at the height of Johnson’s career, Bailey—a graduate of Jamaica’s Knox College, Oakville’s Queen Elizabeth Park secondary school and nearby Sheridan College—was interested in building up more than his biceps. By the late 1980s, he had managed to create a thriving clothing business. He had a Porsche, his own home in Oakville and a steady girlfriend, Michelle Muffin, now the mother of their one-year-old daughter, Adriana. As for running, he was doing more of it on the basketball court than on the track.
It wasn’t until the spring of 1990 that he turned up at a workout run by Etobicoke, Ont., track coach Erwin Turney and said he wanted to start training seriously. “It was comical,” recalls Turney, a former Canadian long-jump champion. “I could see he was fast. But he was out of shape. We started running 100-m sprints. After
the fourth or fifth go, he was dragging himself.”
But Turney also saw his potential. Although Bailey stands six feet tall, he has the inseam of a man four inches taller. On the track, his long legs give him an enormous edge. “His cadence is the same as everyone else’s,” Turney says, “but his stride is longer. He’s got legs up to his shoulders.” Nor was he concerned about Bailey’s now-notorious slowness out of the starting blocks. “The truth is, you can only run full out for 40 or 50 m. So the guy who wins the 100-m dash is usually the guy who is decelerating the slowest. And Donovan usually doesn’t hit his maximum speed until the 70-m mark. He may never be a great starter, but he’ll catch up.”
Bailey has been running from behind since he was a child in Jamaica. At first, he ran to keep up with his siblings. His older brother, O’Neil, who now owns his own electrical company in Oakville, was also a promising athlete (a broken ankle prevented him from accepting a university football scholarship in the United States). His „ half-sister, Arlene Duncan, a
1 Toronto actress and singer now Ë appearing in Tommy, excelled \ in several track and field \ events.
a “I think Donovan wanted to
2 emulate his brother,” his father, George Bailey, said last week
from Kingston. “He was always very aggressive. He’d set a goal for himself and then he’d just go after it in a very determined way. Of course, we wanted him to become a doctor or a lawyer,” says Bailey, a retired chemical worker. “Every parent does. But after a certain age, they have to make their own decisions.” Donovan Bailey has shown no reluctance to do just that. His next decision is to figure out how to win Olympic gold in Atlanta—now less than 12 months away. □
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.