Donovan Bailey

Donovan Bailey had always been fast. But until
he met the right coach, no-one had
ever taught him how to run

Donovan Bailey seems to have come out of nowhere. Just three years ago, he was a mere alternate on Canada’s 4 x 100 relay team. Then suddenly last summer, on a broiling afternoon in Montreal at the Canadian Track and Field Championships, he ran the 100-metre dash in 9.91 seconds. It was the fastest run of 1995, and the fourth-best performance of all time. No-one has run faster since. Bailey went on to win the 100-metre dash, as well as to anchor Canada’s gold-medal-winning 4 x 100 relay team, at the World Track and Field Championships in Gotenborg, Sweden. Still, the country has not yet embraced the Donovan Bailey phenomenon.

It’s January 12, and although this is the first time he’s raced in Canada since becoming the world champion, not even half the stands are filled at Copps Coliseum for the Hamilton Indoor Games. Organizers are disappointed at the record-low attendance. In 1991, when Ben Johnson marked his post-suspension comeback at this same meet, it was standing room only. Perhaps, even after five and a half years, Ben’s public dethronement is still too raw, too humiliating for us to invest emotionally in another sprinter. Or perhaps it’s simply that track and field captures our imagination only every four years, and Bailey’s accomplishments came in a non-Olympic summer.

As the runners take to the blocks for the fifty-metre dash, though, a buzz of anticipation builds. This is the final race of the evening, the purest test of speed that can be run indoors, and the spectators know they are about to watch the fastest man on the planet – a mantle as universally understood as it is exclusive.

Bailey seems relaxed, his face impassive. Last to remove his sweats, he offers encouragement to his competitors. To his left, in lane three, Bruny Surin, ranked number two in Canada and in the rest of the world too, flicks his legs in nervous impatience, trying to find optimal comfort in the blocks. To Bailey’s right is Donovan Powell, the latest talent to come out of Jamaica. Bailey takes his mark. He looks neither right nor left, nor even down the track. Instead, his head is bent, his eyes focused on the space between his hands. Forming a bridge, his thumb and index finger cradle the start line, the remaining digits splayed, ready to counter the force of legs pushed against the blocks on the next command. The starter instructs the runners into the set position and five men lift. Coiled and poised, Bailey waits to react.

The gun is fired, and the deception begins.

As he lags behind, Bailey creates the illusion that he is a poor starter. Almost every commentator and article mentions this as fact. Bailey, however, has learned that the sprint is not won at the gun, and he has the confidence to be patient.

But more on that later. He pulls even at thirty-five metres. He looks tall and lean, with a lithe and graceful form similar to that of the American Carl Lewis, a two-time Olympic 100-metre champion. When Bailey runs it’s an expression of legs; beside him, Surin is all torso. Heavily muscled, neckless, his head subsumed by shoulders, Surin is a pit bull to Bailey’s greyhound.

Bailey lunges to the tape first. His time is 5.62 seconds, a Canadian record by 0.05 seconds and just 1/100th of a second off a world-record time that has stood for twenty-three years. Surin finishes fourth in 5.70. A month later Bailey will crush the world record at a meet in Reno, Nevada.

Donovan Bailey has risen from obscurity to superstardom at an age --he’s now twenty-eight – when a lot of sprinters are considering retirement. It turns out that he has had the makings of greatness all along, even if he didn’t have the inclination.“Technically, Donovan came a long way from where he was,” his coach, Dan Pfaff, explains. “I don’t think that anyone ever convinced him that there was a model for sprinting.”

So Pfaff did.

Because the 100-metre dash is the rawest of athletic events, the human eye has a hard time comprehending it as anything but a mad lunge down the straightaway. For a world-class sprinter, however, ten seconds is a lifetime. Separating immortal from also-ran is a moment, an interval of time literally less than the blink of an eye. Albert Einstein said, “I want to know God’s thoughts. All the rest are details.” For Dan Pfaff, the opposite is true: when a tenth of a second is everything, detail is god.

It’s a month after the Hamilton win, a warm February day in Austin, Texas. Dan Pfaff sits quietly in the first row of the bleachers at the University of Texas’s Longhorn Stadium, watching his athletes. He answers my questions with drawling, laconic replies, pondering vowels, never taking his eyes off the runners. He metes out advice to them only when prompted, precise instructions interspersed by a stream of tobacco juice into a Gatorade cup. “Work on your breathing pattern,” he tells Glenroy Gilbert, a member of Canada’s 4 x 100 team and another sprinter who is a click away from superstardom. “I’d like to see four and four rather than five and five because right now you’re holding.” Gilbert is trying to inhale over five strides and exhale over the same, but Pfaff thinks he’s straining too much. I am amazed that he can discern a breathing pattern. I am also amazed that a sprinter can adjust it on demand.

As an assistant coach at the University of Houston, Pfaff worked under the guru of sprinting, Tom Tellez, coach to both Carl lewis and the current 100-metre world-record holder Leroy Burrell (9.85 seconds in 1994). He went on to become field-events coach at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge before taking over at Texas. He has a masters degree in sports science and has done doctoral work in motor learning. He inspires reverence and unbridled loyalty in his athletes. Bailey, who calls him “one of the most intelligent human beings I know,” didn’t think twice about moving from Baton Rouge to Austin when Pfaff changed schools.

Pfaff first noticed Bailey during a training session at the 1993 World Track and Field Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. “I was practising [relay] hand-offs to Glenroy and Dan said, ‘You’ve got all the tools to be world class, you just have to get serious.’” What Pfaff saw was a terrible starter, a sprinter who was a technical nightmare with no coordination, and who was still managing to run fast in spite of his inefficiency. Bailey packed his bags and headed down to Baton Rouge. “Basically, I decided I was going to quit everything I was doing and give this a shot.”

Bailey had long been in need of just this kind of intervention. The son of a machinist, the fourth of five boys from a comfortable middle-class family in Oakville, Ontario, Bailey had been a teenage track star almost despite himself. Basketball was his preferred sport at Queen Elizabeth High School. The rigours of daily track practices held so little appeal for him that each year he was cut from the team. Motivated by the social (rather than athletic) opportunities track afforded, Bailey annually reinstated himself by beating everyone else on the last day of practice. His best high-school performance was 10.65 in the 100 metres at the Halton Championships, just one-tenth of a second off the provincial high-school record of the time. After graduating, he didn’t lace up a pair of spikes again for five years. In the meantime, he received a diploma in business administration at Sheridan College, continued his basketball career as a small forward on the college team, and worked as a marketing consultant.

He returned to the track to quell the what if? voice inside his head. “I realized from very early on that I was blessed with speed. Basically, what I wanted to do was not get older and regret not doing something I could have been good at.” Running out of the Phoenix Track Club in Toronto in 1991, his first season back, Bailey finished fourth in the sixty-metre dash at the Canadian Indoor championships. His talent was evident, but sprinting was still just a part-time hobby. The next year, hampered by injuries, still not fully committed, he placed second in the 100 metres at the nationals. But his time of 10.48 seconds wasn’t fast enough to rank him even among the planet’s top 200.

His career, and his attitude, changed in 1993. By medalling in both the 100 metres and 200 metres at the national championships, Bailey won himself a spot on Canada’s 4 x 100 relay team for the world championships in Stuttgart. He made the trip, but at the last minute the Athletics Canada coaches dropped him from the squad, telling him they wanted to use runners with more experience in big meets. He was furious. He decided to render the selection committee dispensable in future, by being so fast he couldn’t possibly be turned down. That’s when Dan Pfaff happened along. “When I met Dan I was just an empty book I knew that I was there for a reason but it was like I was lost. I said, ‘You flip the pages and write your script.’”

“I’m interested in the balance, the rhythm, the harmony,” Pfaff says. “I think there is a blend of art and science when you’re coaching sport.” He began with Bailey’s start. Actually, he began before that, working on Bailey’s concentration in the moments before the start.“When I’m in the blocks - and this could be the Olympics or a twilight meet - I hear Dan speak to me. I think about the little things that he teaches me,” Bailey says. The little things include aligning his shoulders over his hands, pressing his back leg hard against the block, making sure his front leg is forty-five degrees off the ground and his hips are in the air. By properly positioning his body in the universe, he reduces everything to an intimate relationship between himself and the sound of the starters pistol. There is no time to think about the bigger picture, or even about ten, twenty, eighty metres down the track. Consumed by details, there is no time to get nervous.

Which is essential, because the art of the 100-metre dash is in achieving a precise balance between relaxation and adrenaline. It’s a conundrum: too nervous and muscles tighten, shorten, constrict, and are no longer able to work to their maximum capacity. Too relaxed and an athlete won’t have enough adrenaline pumping to summon vast reservoirs of energy in a very explosive space of time. The ideal is easy to envisage but hard to execute. Crouched in the blocks, poised for the gun, knowing the dizzying payoffs that await the winner makes it hard to draw slow, even breaths.

Do you remember the 100-metre final at the Seoul Olympics? When the gun went, Ben Johnson popped out of the blocks. While the other runners still had their heads down, he was already fully upright, his Popeye arms pumping, his eyes devouring the finish line. Though this was magnificent to watch - a spectacular display of power - it is not necessarily the best way to start a race.

There is the element of the tortoise and the hare even in the 100 metres, and Pfaff has taught his protege to come out of the blocks like a tortoise. In the pre-Pfaff days, Bailey could rocket off the line with the best of them. “When I first started track I had a whole lot of confidence in my start. But I didn’t know how to run a 100 metre.” Before the race was even half over, Bailey would begin to tighten visibly. By eighty metres he was an unsightly mess of contortion staggering towards the finish line.“When you start a race it’s like you have a nine-volt battery,” Pfaff analogizes.“You have to use that battery wisely.” Bailey was using up seven volts just trying to stay with his competitors early in the race. But because he is such a long-legged guy, he takes longer to unfurl and get into optimal running position. Is it any wonder that sprinters with similar physiques - Carl Lewis, and the former world champion Linford Christie of England - have also been labelled slow starters? They’re not. To think of them in such a way is to mistake strategy for slowness.

The daily highs in February hover around seventy in this part of Texas, making Austin a mecca for winter training. A trio of Russian sprinters are doing laps. Two 400-metre hurdlers from France have been here since the fall. Jamaicans, Austrians, a veritable United Nations of athletes contribute to the mini-Olympic Village feel of the university. Most have come with their own coaches and are simply taking advantage of the facilities here. Some have been invited by Pfaff to work out with his regulars. Others have just shown up, hoping to catch his eye.

The sprinters are easy to spot. They’re the ones who don’t seem to be doing much. Distance runners can will excellence by pounding out endless miles. Throwers can spend hours in the weight room transforming themselves into behemoths, but for sprinters, success is in large part a matter of genetics.

Fast-twitch muscle fibres are to speed what hormones are to the sex drive - the physical manifestation of a rather nebulous phenomenon. Fast-twitch fibres fire quickly, burning glycogen that’s stored in the cells - a fuel supply that’s readily available, but finite. Slow-twitch fibres fire slowly but continuously; burning oxygen pumped in through the blood supply. Though it is true that sprinters have a higher ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch fibres than the rest of us, the ratio is not an absolute indicator. Sprinters also need a cardiovascular system that can pump enormous amounts of blood, and thus oxygen, into the legs quickly. They must be strong enough to explode out of the blocks. (Bailey bench-presses 225 pounds, which is not a prodigious weight. Glenroy Gilbert bench-presses 325 pounds. But the measure of Bailey’s leg strength - his squat of 505 pounds – is formidable.) Sprinters must, at the same time, be flexible enough to extend through a full range of motion. They must have high muscle elasticity (or bounce) so that, on impact with the track, energy is returned to the body, rather than absorbed by it. And they must have the motor skills to coordinate all this into a fluid running motion.

Training doesn’t breed speed, it fine-tunes it. Which is not to suggest that the sprint does not require hard work, or that sprinters don’t make themselves hurt: the highlight of Pfaff’s Saturday session - three runs of 120 to 200 metres, at full speed, with six-minute recoveries between them - is appropriately referred to as the “puke runs,” even with the precaution of a light breakfast. But today, Pfaff is away with the university team at a meet in Houston, and without his prodding the sprinters are into the second hour of their work-out, and they are still warming up.

Stretches, leg lifts, sit-ups, push-ups, and “Young and Restless” plot developments are demarcated with full-body reclines that threaten to turn into power naps. Bailey stands up, walks slowly to the end of the straightaway, takes a deep breath, then rockets down the track. He repeats this procedure twice more, for a daily dose of speed training that totals less than two city blocks. After strength exercises (tossing the medicine ball and hopping on alternate legs), a very slow half-mile jog cool-down, and a debate on the existence of an afterlife, practice is over. When I comment on the light fare he’s just endured, Bailey is quick to point out that three days a week he’s also in the weight room doing Olympic-style lifts, squats, lunges, bench presses, and toe risers. Trevino Betty, a Canadian long-jumper, rolls off his stomach, props an elbow under his head, and chimes in: “I know you’re going to make it look like we don’t do anything.”

For Bailey, the thirty-metre mark is the fulcrum of the race. At this point he will have taken exactly two breaths: one slow exhale and one slow inhale. But the sibilant air around him - punctured each time his foot strikes the ground - sounds like pistons exploding and leaves the impression he is breathing at a furious rate.

He might be trailing. Carl Lewis usually was. Leroy Burrell did not have the lead at thirty metres when he set the world record. The shorter, more powerful runners - like Bruny Surin, for example- are usually ahead at this point. They have to explode from the gun and hope to win by establishing an early lead and then defending it to the end. “If I’m behind at thirty metres I don’t care,” says Bailey. “You better get off the track because I’m coming to get you.”

Fully upright, Bailey begins his race. When he accelerates, the effect is like a spring releasing. Loading the spring involves a mild assault on the body the day before competition. Lifting weights, shot-putting, and jumping over hurdles prime the nervous system for hair-trigger response.

Lungs full of air, hips and shoulders high, Bailey’s stride lengthens constantly until the sixty-metre mark, when he will be covering more than seven metres with each step. He will maintain top speed for the next twenty metres. His head is erect and aligned in the centre of his lane, with minimal side-to-side lolling. Terminal velocity is 11.5 metres per second, or forty kilometres an hour. Between thirty and eighty metres no-one in the world can move faster than Donovan Bailey.

Dan Pfaff cautions that if Bailey has one weakness, it is a tendency to get distracted in this middle section of the sprint: “Donovan blanks in races. He loses running rhythm. He gets lost. It’s hard to imagine getting lost in ten seconds but it happens.” Invariably a lack of focus results in miscues, little errors that precipitate a chain reaction of disaster: legs splaying, knees not properly aligning, a disjointed arm swing, tension in the back, hunched shoulders, will all contribute to a loss of rhythm, thus frequency, thus synchronicity, and, finally, speed.

This is where temperament, or, more precisely, ego, comes into play. Sprinters are notorious for it. From interviews where they refer to themselves only in the exalted third person ('Andre felt good out there today," American Andre Cason comments) to fights in hotel lobbies (like the one between American Dennis Mitchell and Nigeria’s Olapade Adeniken two summers ago), to public trash-talking (of the sort Ben and Carl famously engaged in), uncontainable ego has become an integral part of the sprinting game.

But it is not solely an offshoot of their status as the thoroughbreds of the track-and-field world. In a race where the challenge is to stay focused, where every runner is competing mostly against himself, a failure of nerve or confidence, a moment of doubt, is disastrous. One sprinter’s ego can creep into a competitor’s lane, into his psyche, inducing such a moment, possibly cramping his style and affecting his race. And so for sprinters, ego is a tactic.

Donovan Bailey’s is certainly large enough. “People seem to get shocked at things I do and then ask me why I’m not excited,” he says. “I’m not excited because I think I can do better.” Which prompts Glenroy Gilbert to say wistfully, “He doesn’t fear anybody.” The key for Bailey is to use his confidence as a defensive weapon, as a way to maintain his concentration and keep him focused on his own race. So he refuses to be drawn into a war of words with anyone, or even to speculate on his chances of an Olympic gold. “Carl Lewis and all these people talk about finals and gold medals and world records. I don’t play the game that way. I don’t get caught up in stuff that isn’t going to help me.”

If he’s unrestrained by doubt, if his mind is consumed by the details, during the acceleration phase of the race, he’ll start to fly. “You’re catching more wind at your feet so you’re spending a lot less time on the ground. You’ll see sprinters in a full sprint and they’re not touching the ground at all,” Bailey explains. Sometimes when watching replays of races, he is awed by his ability to soar.

After practice, Bailey walks back onto the track wearing black jeans, a black shirt, and black motorcycle boots. He looks smooth. Sleek Confident. Other runners are still congratulating him on the new world record he set in Reno, as well as needling him on his alleged false start. He laughs, accepts the praise without dwelling on it, and firms up plans for a dominoes tournament later that night.

The world champion is dearly living large. He pulls out a cellular phone and calls his agent to finalize his travel arrangements for a race this Saturday in Fairfax, Virginia. Last weekend he raced in Reno on Friday, then flew first class to Japan for six seconds of work three nights later. A new Jeep Grand Cherokee has just arrived at his home in Oakville. For now he roars around Austin in a black Mazda RX7. He’s got endorsement deals with Coca-Cola, Adidas, Kellogg’s, Air Canada, and Degree antiperspirant. The biggest decision on tap today is deciding what type of flooring he wants in the kitchen of the new house that’s being built in the hills of Austin. There is a strong inclination to go with the marble.

His family won’t be moving down to Texas, at least not anytime soon. Life, says Bailey, is too chaotic. He gets to Oakville as often as his schedule permits, spending a week here, two weeks there, with his twenty-two-month-old daughter, Adrienna, and her mother, Michelle. (Asked if Michelle should be described as his girlfriend, Bailey says no, that she is better described as “a part of my life.”) He regrets that he can’t be with his daughter more often, but there’s just not a lot of down time for the world’s fastest man.

Bright, articulate, and personable, Bailey is the antithesis of Ben Johnson. He doesn’t even seem to resent the taint his predecessor left on his sport. “It’s our job as athletes to change people’s opinion,” he says. Rumours of steroid abuse have occasionally cropped up around Bailey as well, largely because of the suddenness of his emergence. But he denies he’s on steroids, persuasively He has, after all, passed countless unannounced tests. Even this spring, when Sean Baksh, a young Canadian sprinter training with the group in Austin, tested positive for stanozolol, no serious suspicions were cast on Bailey. Baksh was not one of Pfaff’s proteges. He was a young sprinter who hung around the track until he was allowed to join in during training. And how could Baksh be part of an organized doping programme when he was the only one caught and everyone else tested clean?

Bailey’s entourage has swelled with his success. IMG, the world’s most successful matchmaker between athletes and corporate dollars, has been brought on board to parlay speed into green. Two agents negotiate appearance fees for his races. They won’t divulge Bailey’s rates, but appearance fees for sprinters of his calibre start at $20,000 (U.S.) and skyrocket from there. Carl Lewis and Linford Christie, for example, were each paid $150,000 (U.S.) to race in England two years ago. But Bailey’s not solely interested in the money he can make. As part of his effort to rebuild his sport’s reputation, he competed in less lucrative meets in Hamilton, Saskatoon, and Montreal last winter. Mark Lindsay, the husband of Olympic gold-medal skier Kate Pace, will be arriving in Austin this spring as his personal masseur, to knead out the by-products of daily work-outs and make sure his bad hip and old man’s back (legacies of his basketball career) stay healthy.

Which brings us to a moment in Atlanta. Make no mistake about it, Donovan Bailey will be the man to beat. His indoor success this winter – he won eight of the nine races he entered – cemented his King of the Hill credibility. The cast of challengers in Adanta will be formidable. Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell will probably both be there. (The U.S. is still the sprinting powerhouse. Seven of the ten fastest times ever run belong to the Americans, who have never lost the 100-metre dash the three times the Olympics have been held on their soil.) Linford Christie, who beat Bailey five times in 1995, will be a wily competitor, as will Frankie Fredericks from Namibia who eclipsed the world indoor 100-metre record last winter. There’s also his fellow countryman Bruny Surin. And every year the threat of another unknown blasting on the scene a la Bailey looms large.

But if Bailey gets through the three qualifying rounds, if he doesn’t false-start, pull a hamstring, hurt his hip, strain his back, trip, stumble, eat the wrong food, then at 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 27, the eyes of the world will be on him.

Once a sprinter hits the eighty-metre mark, his challenge is to hold his form and main-rain as much speed as possible over the last twenty metres. Bailey remembers what the moment was like on his best day, that afternoon last July in Montreal when he ran 9.91 and took his place among the greats. “What I remember most about that race was when I got to eighty metres and I hit top speed, for the first time I felt my body tilt back slightly, which allowed me to take in a whole lot of oxygen.”

In the perfect race, the face does not betray the exertion the rest of the body is experiencing- the eyelids are lazy, half-dosed, the cheeks smooth, mouth petulant, the lower lip flapping in bemused detachment. Only at the desperate lunge for the finish line - a move that goes against the physics of prudent racing will the lips contort into a grimace and reveal the assault the body has undergone.

This summer, if we could freeze-frame the race at eighty metres and study the faces of the eight runners, we would be able to pick the Olympic champion. If Bailey’s is a study in smoothness, he will win gold.“Guys that look like they’re accelerating at the end of a 100 metre aren’t,” Pfaff says.“They’re just decelerating less. It gives them the aura of pulling away.” Thus, to “pull away” is not about digging down deep, going to the well, sucking it up, or any of the other gritty maxims; instead it’s about letting go and giving way to momentum. It’s a belief that the effort and the attention to detail through the first seventy or eighty metres of the race is enough to propel you to the finish. It’s an act of faith.

Section: Cover\Olympics

Donovan Bailey wins track’s most coveted title in record-breaking time

It was the marquee event of the Olympic Games-the most exciting 10 seconds in the first week of what has already been a showcase for extraordinary athletic endeavor. Or rather, the most exciting 9.84 seconds, a blistering new world record set by Canada’s own Donovan Bailey, inheritor of the title that goes to the winner of the Olympic 100-m race: world’s fastest man. And at first, he did not seem to be running that fast at all. Bailey had a slow start out of the blocks. But he kept on gaining ground, accelerating to a pace of 12.1-m-per second at the 60-m mark, and powering past the field in his final 10 strides. And what a field it was. Namibia’s Frank Fredericks took silver with 9.89 seconds and even bronze medallist Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Tobago finished in just 9.9. Together, the top three sprinters were the fastest medallists ever recorded. And Bailey was the standout. ‘When I started to accelerate and guys were still within reach of me," the elated victor said immediately afterward, “I knew I had it then.” the 100-m final on Saturday night was not only the fastest ever, it was also one of the most bizarre. It began with three false starts, two of them blamed on 36-year-old British runner Linford Christie, the gold medallist at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. That disqualified Christie, but the racers had to wait for official confirmation when he appealed for a review. Finally, Christie retreated to the sidelines where he stood, shaking his head in disbelief and watching as Bailey blazed over the finish line. Bailey gave out a joyful yell as he realized he had won. And then he ran a victory lap, a Canadian flag draped over his shoulders. "I ran my own race in the final,’ said Bailey. 'And I ended up here with the gold medal and a world record." His only disappointment he said, was that Montrealer Bruny Surin, finishing fifth in his semi-final heat with a run of 10.13 seconds, failed to make the final.

Bailey went into the race as the reigning world champion-although his times before Atlanta this year had been off his personal best. The 28-year-old runner’s home is in Oakville, Ont., but he trains in Austin, Tex. Bailey stayed in Austin until late last week, preparing for the Games with fellow sprinter Glenroy Gilbert, 27, of Ottawa, and long-jumper Rich Duncan, 22, of St. Catharines, Ont. 'Me trio flew to Atlanta on July 24, only two days before the 100-m preliminary heats. Clearly, Bailey’s training regimen paid off.

So had his decision relatively late in life to focus on sprinting. Born in Jamaica, he moved to Oakville to live with his father when he was 12, and went on to play basketball at that community’s Sheridan College. Afterward, he focused on building a small consulting business. It was not until 1991, when he was 23, that he started serious training as a runner, after attending the national track championship in Montreal and deciding he could run faster than the sprinters he saw. Up to that point, his only experience had been with his high-school track team. But Bailey did not make an international impact until after he began working with sprint specialist Dan Pfaff at the University of Texas in 1994, after they met at the world championships in Stuttgart, Germany. He helped Bailey polish his style and earn not only progressively better times and a world title, but also endorsement deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now, his Olympic gold medal could turn that into millions.

Surin, meanwhile, was the silver medallist at last year’s world championships. At a news conference the day before the 100-m heats, Surin seemed confident, saying he had been running well in practice, although he acknowledged that he had some injuries “here and there.” Regardless, the ascendance of Surin, Bailey and the relay team has helped Canada’s sprint program emerge from the scandal that rocked the Seoul Olympics in 1988 when Ben Johnson tested positive for steroids and was forced to surrender his 100-m gold medal. That is an issue Surin addressed at his pre-race news conference. “All the time, they’re talking about drugs with athletes from track and field,” he said. “I don’t think the media treat us fairly; 1988 was a big scandal, but it’s time to put those things behind.”

Bailey downplayed a question about whether his victory erased the memory of the Ben Johnson saga. “I’m racing for myself and for my family, and for the country of course.” Then, he added: “I know it is a good thing for our sport. It definitely is going to do some good.” It also made family and friends back in Oakville very happy. Bailey promised them a big party when he gets home. As he put it: “My house. My treat.”

PHOTO (COLOR): Bailey with Boldon left, Fredericks: fastest trio

Section: Sports

Donovan Bailey begins a new year in the spotlight

The fastest man in the world is in no hurry, even though he is the last passenger to board the flight from Toronto to Montreal. As a flight attendant closes the door behind him, Donovan Bailey shuffles down the aisle and finds his seat in economy. Unrecognized by the other passengers on the business-day shuttle, the Oakville, Ont., resident neatly folds his leather trench coat, places it atop his suitcase in the overhead bin, and settles in beside his agent, Kevin Albrecht. They have to review the schedule for the day ahead, working with Bailey’s new sponsor on a TV commercial. They also have to plot Bailey’s off-track timetable leading to the Atlanta Olympics next July. As suggested by his immaculate outfit–yellow wool vest, band-collared white shirt and perfectly pressed, dark-green trousers–Bailey is a stickler for certain details. But when it comes to making and following schedules, he has no patience. “I’ll run,” he tells Albrecht, laughing, “and you handle all the other stuff.”

Bailey may still go unrecognized in Canada, but that is about to change. In the next two weeks, he and fellow sprint team members Bruny Surin of Montreal and Glenroy Gilbert of Ottawa will be the main attractions at three televised indoor meets–Jan. 12 in Hamilton, Jan. 14 in Saskatoon and Jan. 19 in Montreal. And since winning the world 100-m championship last summer in Goeteborg, Sweden, the 28-year-old Bailey has become a hot marketing commodity. Three new Canadian sponsors–Helene Curtis, Coca-Cola and a soon-to-be-announced third company–in addition to his equipment supplier, Adidas, are all planning pre-Olympic advertising campaigns featuring the Canadian sprinter. Bailey has discovered that being in the spotlight is not as glamorous as it appears. The hours are gruelling and the work is tedious. But the commercials ensure that, in terms of his profile and his bank balance, Bailey will be running in the fast lane all the way to Atlanta.

On his pre-Christmas trip to shoot a commercial for Degree–a deodorant made by Helene Curtis–he certainly takes everything in stride. Arriving in Montreal, Bailey finds the city in the hard grip of winter. The Jamaica native moved with his father to Canada when he was 4, and currently trains full time in Austin, Tex. “I don’t do winter very well,” he says, stamping the snow off his feet in a downtown hotel lobby. Over a cup of tea and a bowl of soup in the hotel’s cafe, he talks about how sponsors remain uneasy about dealing with Canadian track athletes. Companies have not forgotten Ben Johnson’s positive test for steroids at the 1988 Summer Games in South Korea and the subsequent Dubin Inquiry into drugs in sport. As a result, Canadian sprinters are suspect on and off the track. “Everyone is scared about drugs,” says Bailey, who was tested more than 20 times in 1995. “And it’s easy to understand. They don’t want another Ben.”

After lunch, Bailey must sit for some still photographs. The studio is close to the hotel, but the snow has begun to pile up and the bootless Bailey slips uneasily along the sidewalk. “I’m a lousy skater,” he admits. “My ankles are too weak.” Inside and barely warm, he poses in running shorts and a lime-green singlet, then in an orange one. Bailey is stunningly proportioned, with powerful, long legs, a muscular torso and a minuscule 28-inch waist. At rest, his facial expression is serious, but for the camera he offers a version of the 200-watt smile that graced the sports pages the day after his Goeteborg triumph. He looked the same at the Canadian chapionships last July, when he ran the 100 in a personal-best time of 9.91 seconds. The photographer asks him to mimic his just-across-the-finish-line winning pose, hands exultantly in the air. He does his best, but it is no substitute for the real thing.

There is a break in the schedule for dinner and a brief rest; the commercial will be shot between 11:30 p.m. and 6 a.m. at an indoor track in north Montreal. What little sleep he gets is interrupted by an eager production assistant who calls the hotel room to make sure Bailey knows the timetable. It is still snowing when he and Albrecht grab a cab at 11:15 p.m. The driver hurtles into the night as if in a rally, fishtailing around corners and hitting speeds of more than 100 km/h before arriving at the wrong athletic facility in the wrong part of town.

Finally on the set, Bailey gets back into his track suit and, between takes, stays warm in a terry-cloth robe. “Our Olympic team should be really good,” he says, unbidden. “I am really looking forward to it.” He should: a win in the Games’ glamor event–over such speedsters as Britain’s Linford Christie and America’s Leroy Burrell–would bring him not only glory but considerable gold. He will also likely anchor Canada’s No.1-rated 4 x 100-m relay team, which includes Surin, Gilbert and Robert Esmie of Sudbury, Ont. Not bad for a guy who started a small telemarketing firm after he graduated from Oakville’s Sheridan College and did not begin running seriously until he attended the 1990 Canadian nationals in Montreal as a spectator. His main sport had been basketball, but he had always been fast. "I was watching and thought, ‘Hell, I can beat some of those guys.’ "

Work progresses slowly–the commercial is being shot in two-second segments–and by 3 a.m. Bailey is pacing the darkened gym to stay awake. “I’m drifting, man, drifting,” he says with a quiet chuckle. He has done commercials before, most recently in Santa Monica, Calif., for Adidas. That ad compares him to legendary U.S. sprinter Jesse Owens, the star of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, because of their similar approaches to racing. “Jesse would just show up and race–he didn’t care who else was there,” Bailey says. “I’m the same way.”

Mercifully, the shoot finishes at 6 a.m., but Bailey gets only a couple of hours of sleep. He and Albrecht have to be up in time to fly back to Toronto for a lunchtime news conference to announce his deal with Helene Curtis. Before leaving for the airport, Bailey must wait for the pants to a new suit, which the company is supplying, to be hemmed. He is not happy, though. He did not bring the right shoes. “Everything has to be a certain way–my house, my clothes, everything,” he explains. “I want everything to match, or I go crazy.”

Boarding the flight, he hides his unhappiness and fatigue behind a pair of sleek, metal-framed sunglasses. He is thrilled by his success, he says, but not completely surprised. He has run successively faster times each year since he began racing, particularly since early 1994, when he started working with coach Dan Pfaff at the University of Texas. “I’ve always had this thing about being the best,” he says. "In high school, playing basketball, if someone on the other team scored 30 points in the first half, then look out for me in the second half. It’s something I got growing up in the playground. ‘Whatever you can do, I can match.’ "

The news conference is at a downtown Toronto hotel. In the cab from the airport, Albrecht asks if Bailey is comfortable speaking in front of a large group of people. “I’m delirious,” Bailey says, “so I’ll do anything.” The conference attracts an impressive turn-out from local and national media–Bailey is big news, even hawking deodorant. Organizers play a tape of behind-the-scenes action from the previous night’s shoot, then introduce the star. As promised, he says all the right things, thanking his new sponsor, reviewing his accomplishments in 1995 and promising more great things for 1996. Jamie Condie, Helene Curtis’s marketing director, looks pleased. “I think it went very well,” he says.

Bailey does a dozen one-on-one interviews with the awaiting reporters, then escapes to Oakville for a nap and to see his girlfriend, Michelle, and their 18-month-old daughter, Adriana. But he has one more commitment on his calendar. His alma mater, Queen Elizabeth Park School, is holding its annual reunion basketball game in Oakville that night, and he wants to play–sleep or no sleep. “I missed it last year,” he says, “and I don’t want to miss it again.”

But he does. Bailey arrives after the game has been played, though he still gets a chance to see old friends in a year when he will be consumed with training and travel. He can already see the end. “I’ll stop running in another two or three years,” he says. “I want to get back to being a father to my daughter. But right now, I’m sacrificing fatherhood to live out a dream.”

Section: Cover/The 1996 Honor Roll

‘Sprinters are usually very self-absorbed and selfish’

Donovan Bailey’s house says a lot about its owner. The new two-storey brick home backs onto a leafy ravine in Oakville, Ont., just west of Toronto, giving him the privacy he wanted–“It’s kind of like a little gated community in here,” he says. The sprinter was training in Texas when the house deal closed last May, but he agonized over every detail, even the driveway. Instead of asphalt, he bought interlocking beige bricks to match the house itself. Inside, he and his companion of three years, Michelle Mullin, of London, have not yet fully furnished every room, but they have meticulously outfitted heavy-traffic areas such as the den, with its plush leather sofa, big-screen TV and framed prints of jazz greats Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Bailey laughs when a visitor suggests the house is beginning to look settled. Plotted on an atlas, his 1996 schedule would look like an airline route map. “I like having a home, a real home,” he says. “But I don’t stay in one place too long.”

Little wonder. At the Atlanta Olympics last summer, in front of a worldwide TV audience of more than one billion people, Bailey defeated the best 100-m field in history, and set a new world record of 9.84 seconds in the process. The 29-year-old native of Manchester, Jamaica, who moved to Oakville when he was 12, later joined with Robert Esmie, Glenroy Gilbert and Bruny Surin to win the 4 x 100-m relay. Those triumphs were celebrated wildly in Canada, but Bailey had little time to join in. From Atlanta, he embarked on a gruelling schedule of meets from Europe to the Far East. Last month, after a few weeks at home, he returned to Austin, Tex., to begin training for the 1997 season.

A shy man leading a public life, Bailey can be confounding. He is keenly interested in the business of sport, yet he has refused interview requests from U.S. magazines and TV networks that would have gained him–and his sponsors–a windfall of exposure. He has no trouble performing in front of thousands at a stadium, yet gets nervous when asked to give short speeches before only dozens of people at sponsors’ functions. “I was born in a small town in Jamaica and I grew up in a small town in Canada,” he says. “It’s my nature.”

Shy perhaps, but not meek. The sprint world is filled with chest-thumping mercenaries and, while he is more easygoing than most, Bailey is no choir-boy. No one succeeds in the withering heat of a 100-m race without a killer instinct. “Sprinters are usually very self-absorbed and selfish,” he says. “I am that way sometimes, too.” His immediate ambitions are to beat American Michael Johnson in a 150-m match race next spring, and to set the world relay record with Surin, Gilbert and Esmie at next summer’s world championships in Athens. “We’re like brothers now,” he says. His long-term goal, however, might just keep him going until the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia. “Running the perfect race–that’s what I shoot for,” he says. “And I haven’t run even close to that yet.”

At home, his transition from gunslinger to regular guy is enforced by the couple’s daughter, two-year-old Adriana. Waking up from an afternoon nap, she immediately climbs onto her father’s lap and the interview stops. “At first, I didn’t see myself being a father,” he says softly. “But it’s amazing how quickly you become Mr. Bailey.” The sprint king, it seems, does everything quickly.

Section: Sports

A Canadian runner becomes the world’s fastest

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 Goteborg, 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 world-class 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 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, Bailey’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 Goteborg 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 Mullin, 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 Toronto actress and singer now appearing in Tommy, excelled in several track and field events.

I think Donovan wanted to 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.

PHOTO (COLOR): Bailey at finish

PHOTO (COLOR): With Surin: gold



SHE HAD BEEN STARING AT him for most of the flight, studying this vaguely familiar face to which she could attach no name. There are thousands of flights carrying hundreds of thousands of briefcases every day between Toronto and Montreal, planes full of men who look as if they are going to show samples or take depositions, but this man wasn’t one of them. He was chatting into someone’s tape recorder, answering questions in engaging bursts. He was special. Important. Anyone could see that.

“Excuse me,” the woman whispered as the passengers filed off the plane. “Am I supposed to know him?”

The greatest titles in the universe are heavyweight champion and world’s fastest man. They represent the pinnacles of two simple, primordial pastimes, fighting and sprinting. No moment in sports is as delicious with anticipation as when the champion threads his way to the ring–unless it’s a stadium going library-silent waiting for the gun of an Olympic 100-meter final.

Mike Tyson is the heavyweight champion, and he can start a parade anywhere in the world by walking around the block. Dono-van Bailey, the special passenger on that flight to Toronto, is the world’s fastest man, the 100-meter world champion. He starts no parades. He leaves a shallow footprint.

Aren’t we supposed to know him?

“If I lived in Europe,” Bailey says, “I’d be sick of seeing my own face on TV, and I’d be worth millions.”

But Bailey lives in Oakville, a bedroom community in suburban Toronto. His country is now the fastest nation on earth. Strange. Canada used to fancy itself the Great Slow North, an earnest but lumbering Dudley Do-Right sort of land. These days it is the home of Bailey, world 100-meter silver medalist Bruny Surin and the world champion 4x100 meter relay team. Keeping such fast company has its perils, of course. Canada once fell in love with a 100-meter hero, a muscular, monosyllabic champion named Ben Johnson, who broke the heart of the nation when the gold medal he won and world-record time he ran were taken away after he tested positive for steroids at the 1988 Olympics.

Maybe Canada isn’t ready to love again. Bailey and Surin raced at indoor meets in three cities across Canada last January. There was only one full house in the series (in Saska-toon), even though the second race was in Hamilton, 20 minutes door-to-door from Bailey’s condo if he is driving his Mazda RX7. The gold and silver medalists from last summer’s world championships were running at home in an Olympic year, and 6,000 fans showed up in an arena that holds three times as many. It was as if the world’s fastest man were running next door and his neighbors drew the drapes.

If life were fair, the Donovan Bailey story would start with how he was born in 1967 in Manchester, Jamaica, or how he came to Canada in 1981 or how he ran track to meet girls (“Never a fat girl on the track, except maybe the shot put”) or how his yearbook said he would be either a 1992 Olympian or manager of a Club Med, or with some other silly biographical signpost along the road to the summit of the sprint world.

Life isn’t fair, so the story starts in an Oakville bar where Bailey was waiting for the Olympic 100-meter final on a September night in 1988.

This race wasn’t simply a living-room event in Canada. This was 10 seconds’ worth of national glue, something people felt they needed to share. This was the heavyweight championship: Ben Johnson vs. Carl Lewis. The bar was packed.

“I was shaking, sweating, my teeth were clattering,” says Bailey. “A lot of people felt that way. When Ben won, the whole place exploded.”

The whole country exploded. Three days later, with the news of Johnson’s positive steroid test, a nation imploded. The most identifiable Canadian in history was not a politician or musician or hockey player. He was a cheat. There was a disqualification at Seoul, a qualification at home. Johnson was now a “Jamaican-Canadian.” In losing the gold, he had gained a hyphen, and a silent legacy was established.

"I was home watching tapes of all the Olympic 100s since 1984, and I was thinking that afterwards all the stories referred to a ‘Jamaican-born sprinter,’ "says Surin, 28, who moved to Montreal from Haiti when he was seven. “What the hell was that? It makes you wonder if it could ever happen to us if anything bad happened. Not drugs, but anything. The radio, the TV, all you were hearing was jokes about Ben Johnson. Proud Canadian one day. Jokes the next.”

Both Bailey and Surin suggest this reaction wasn’t entirely because of the Stanozolol in Johnson’s system. They suggest it also was because of something deep within many Canadians.

“Canada is as blatantly racist as the United States,” Bailey says off handedly as he sits in a restaurant in Austin, where he now trains.

"We know it exists. People who don’t appear to be Canadian"people of color–“don’t get the same treatment. They associate you with your parents’ birthplace or your birthplace . . . . . . . Look at our [sprint] relay. It’s an issue.”

The Canadian 4x100 relay team is all Caribbean. Bailey and Robert Esmie were born in Jamaica, Surin in Haiti and Glenroy Gilbert in Trinidad. Their victory lap at the world championships, in Goteborg, Sweden, last August, during which they carried a Canadian flag and beamed as if they had scored the Stanley Cup-win-ning goal, raised a question that Bailey now repeats aloud.

“Will Canadians love a black athlete?” he asks. “I hope so. I’m not an idiot. I know that people back home didn’t get excited right after Goteborg. They held their breaths.”

This is life in Canada after sprinting’s nuclear winter. Something will grow again, but it will take time. As Bailey says, “I’m trying to gain the trust of 27 million people.” A gold medal, a nine-point-something and a clean urine sample won’t erase memories of Ben Johnson but will earn Bailey fame, respect and a place among his event’s alltime greats.

“If I run a perfect race,” Bailey says, “I’m the best sprinter in history.”

The Olympic 100-meter final will take just about as long to complete as it does for you to read this sentence aloud. On television it is a blur, eight men churning, pumping and straining to an abrupt finish, but to Bailey it is as structured as a sonata. There is a beginning, a middle, an end: 20 meters of start, 50 meters of acceleration, 30 meters of relaxation. Friends tease that his job takes 10 seconds. He replies that getting to Atlanta has taken a lifetime.

There are people who look at Bailey and wonder. When he runs, he is not smooth like Lewis or Frankie Fredericks of Namibia. He is not conspicuously powerful like Britain’s Linford Christie. Sure, he won the worlds, but 17 days earlier he hadn’t even made the finals in Oslo.

“There are knowledgeable track people who think Goteborg was a fluke,” says Dan Pfaff, a University of Texas assistant who coaches Bailey. “Call someone in England. They’ll tell you the real sprinter, Linford, was hurt.” Even though Bailey set his first world record this year, in the indoor 50 meters, some doubt he will win in Atlanta because his form can’t hold for four rounds of sprinting.

What form?

Bailey craves neatness, order, organization–“Donovan will re-fold the towels to make sure the creases are in the same place,” says his companion, Michelle Mullin–but he can be a mess over 100 meters. Sometimes he covers the distance in 48 strides; other times he needs 51 or 52. Because of a neurological disorder in his left hip, he strides farther with his right leg than with his left. The imbalance sometimes causes him to wobble out of the blocks. He might arch his spine or lift his head. The only man under 10 seconds at the worlds looked like someone dashing for the last chopper out of Saigon.

“Look at tape of the worlds,” Bailey says. “I skate out Of the blocks. My head is up. My back is arched. I’m O.K. from 30 [meters] to 70, but I scream at that point because I start losing it. Sprinting is power, explosion. It’s like dunking a basketball. Goteborg was me coming down the lane for a two-handed tomahawk dunk and then slipping to the side of the basket and doing a one-hander. It’s like, Oh, well.”

The basketball analogy is not to be taken lightly; that sport is Bailey’s first love. He has a scar on his right eyebrow from banging his head on the rim. Bailey claims he has a 52-inch vertical leap–no doubt flying over Babe, the Blue Ox, on his way to the hoop–but friends say 42 inches is about right. Bailey played one season at Sheridan College in Oakville, where it became clear he would never make his mark on the world as a 6-foot power forward. But he had other plans, lots of them. He set himself up as a marketing and investment consultant. By 22 he owned a house and had paid cash for a Porsche 911 convertible.

“I could have left high school and run track right away, but that wasn’t what I wanted,” Bailey says. “I wanted a nice house, money, fast cars. I was taught to work real hard, to work on my own. When I got the material things I wanted and turned back to sprinting, I think it worked against me. Coaches said I had a bad attitude, that I didn’t have a work ethic. I think they resented me. I was a 22-year-old with a Porsche, and they were 35-year-old men driving station wagons.”

Bailey wasn’t on grand terms with Athletics Canada, his sport’s domestic governing body, either. He grew angry when he was left off Canada’s teams for the 1991 worlds and the 1992 Oympics. He made the 1993 worlds, in Stuttgart, only to be dropped from the relay, a decision that left Bailey grousing to anyone in earshot. Pfaff happened to be in earshot. The two of them leaned against the fence at the Stuttgart practice track–Bailey griping while Pfaff (who was then coaching at LSU and working with Gilbert, a friend of Bailey’s since high school) listened. Pfaff finally told him, “You could be one of the best,” and invited him to Baton Rouge.

The world is lousy with 10.36 sprinters–Bailey had never run a faster legal time–but Pfaff could look beyond the flapping mouth and see the rest of the package. There was the proper distribution of muscle mass, the balance between quadri-ceps and hamstrings and the incredible levers in those impossibly long legs. Bailey looks like he has been constructed from spare parts. He wears a size-46 jacket but has a 28-inch waist and a 34-inch inseam. When he gets up from a chair, he does it in sections.

In March 1994, Bailey arrived at LSU prepared to give track one final shot. If it didn’t work out, he figured, he would manage the real estate investments he holds with his brother, O’Neil. Pfaff had him sprint 60 meters and then shooed him off to the weight room to lift with a javelin thrower. Laverne Eve cleaned his clock.

“A woman,” Bailey says. “I was embarrassed.”

He had reason to be. “He came down out of shape, and he also was a nightmare from the bidmechanical standpoint,” Pfaff says. “One foot splayed out 30 degrees, the other 25. He dragged one leg when he ran, his head was back, he wasn’t breathing, and his arms flailed. He was maybe more of a project than ! thought.”

After three months of sprinting and lifting and improving his diet, Bailey trimmed a third of a second from his time. To the track world, his 10.03 seemed to come out of nowhere. Last year he continued to shave off tenths and hundredths. In April he ran a9.99 despite “showing off,” as Pfaff puts it, over the last 40 meters. In June he clocked .a 9.91, just .06 off Leroy Burrell’s world record. At the worlds, Bailey’s winning time was 9.97, the same as he clocked when he finished third at a Grand Prix meet in May.

Bailey has been tinkering with his start in preparation for Atlanta. Ben Johnson–that man again—once said, “Gun go, the race be over,” and Bailey will never explode out of the blocks like that. But he has improved his starts by working with Mark McKoy, the 1992 gold medalist in the 110-meter hurdles. After Bailey whipped him to 40 meters three straight times one afternoon in Austin, McKoy said, “My man’s learned to start now.”

“No way,” Bailey protested. “I used to think, Today, I’m going to have a good start.” He pantomimed a starter’s gun. “Pow!” Bailey froze. “Go? Oh, that means go?” And he reared his head and laughed at his own frailty.

The moment was human, charming and decidedly serfeffacing for a sprinter. They are an odd lot-- moody, high-strung, secretive. Bailey is quick-tempered but also remarkably social. His entourage consists only of his coach, his physiotherapist and, occasionally, his agent. Compared to the preening Lewis, the raging Dennis Mitchell and the brooding Christie (“Mr. Stonehenge,” Bailey calls him with a smile), Bailey could be the neighbor who car-pools on Tuesdays.

“Donovan was calm before Goteborg, and all those other guys were tense,” says Pfaff, “and I think it’s because he had a life before sprinting and knows he’ll have a life after sprinting. If all hell broke loose and he ended up penniless, he’d still have friends. There aren’t many people on the continent who could make that statement.”

Donovan Bailey and Michelle Mullin have a daughter, Adri-enna, who turns two in August.

Bailey was racing in Europe when she was born, when she cut her first tooth, when she took her first steps, when she first said “Da-Da.” He says there is more to life than 10-second intervals on the track, so this had better be his time, his Olympics.

They know Bailey a bit better now in Canada than they did when the snow was on the ground. He appears in soft drink commercials, in ads for a cosmetic company. His has slowly become a household face. The bandwagon lurches forward, more slowly than Ben Johnson’s, which steamrollered everything, including good sense.

Bailey says he knows exactly how the 100-meter final in Atlanta will go. He says he can name the medalists even now, and he promises to put his prediction in an envelope before opening ceremonies and open it after the race. The race, he says, won’t be over after 30 meters because no one accelerates in the middle of a race the way he does. Wait until 70, Bailey says.

“I’ll win if I do everything right,” he says. Chin down. Back straight. Relax. Most of all, breathe. The Olympic 100 meters nears, and Donovan Bailey, tike his country, is waiting to exhale.