On 25 June 2014, author Jeremy Freeborn interviewed Donovan Bailey at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary for The Canadian Encyclopedia. Bailey won a gold medal for Canada in the 100m at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and a gold medal in the 100m at the 1995 World Championships in Athletics in Gothenburg, Sweden. Bailey also helped Canada win the gold medal in the men’s 4x100 metre relay at both of these events.
JF: Tell me what you remember most about moving to Canada at age 13.
DB: I came to Canada when I was 7 and moved here permanently because of school when I was 12 and a half. It was fantastic. We are a great sporting community in Oakville. My brother (O’Neil) was one of the big champions [in Ontario high school long jump]. It was awesome. It was a great place to be and a great place to live.
JF: I understand you had some interest in sprinting for a couple of years but did not take the sport seriously until 1994. Why did you decide to focus on athletics at that time?
JF: Was there any reason you decided to go into athletics?
DB: In Jamaica, track and field is like hockey in Canada. So every kid, no matter what, as soon as you are born and you can walk, you are doing track and field. I was a sprinter since I was five years old.
JF: Tell me about winning the gold medal in the 100m at the World Championship in Gothenburg.
DB: My first individual gold was spectacular. It is something that I trained for and wanted to do. I realized that if I prepared myself well and went in there, all I had to do was win. My coach knew I was very prepared. We went in and got it done. I was the number one ranked sprinter in the world and it was a great thing to top off my year.
JF: What was it like to stand on the podium next to silver medalist Bruny Surin in the men’s 100m?
DB: It was almost like we were a team. We were running individually, but were part of the Canadian team. Winning was great, but even better was the fact that Bruny was the second ranked sprinter in the world. We had a great time in Sweden. An amazing time.
JF: You will probably be remembered most by Canadians for winning the gold medal in the men’s 100m at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. How did the public respond to your win and how did it feel to bring so much joy to Canadians?
DB: At that time the public reacted greatly. In reflecting back, it is an amazing legacy for sport in Canada. It is a great accomplishment. I am very happy that I trained and was prepared for it. The fact that Canadians loved it was great, too.
JF: What is your fondest memory from the Canadian men’s relay team that also won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta?
DB: My greatest memory was that I helped my team achieve something that I achieved individually. I felt that I wanted to revamp the relay program from 1993 [see note below]. We were the most dominant team in the world and we won the gold medal.
Note: At the 1993 World Championships in Athletics in Stuttgart, Germany, the Canadian 4x100 men’s relay team of Bruny Surin, Glenroy Gilbert, Robert Esmie and Atlee Mahorn won the bronze medal. Two years later, at the 1995 World Championships in Athletics in Gothenburg, Sweden, Bailey replaced the retired Mahorn, and Canada won the gold medal. The team (which included Carlton Chambers, who ran in the heats but was unable to run the final due to a groin injury) then knocked off the favoured United States to win the gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Their performance led CBC’s Don Wittman to comment, “You got to love Saturday nights in Georgia.” Surin, Bailey, Gilbert and Esmie then won a gold medal for a third time at the 1997 World Championships in Athletics in Athens, Greece. Gilbert, Esmie, Surin and Bailey are the most successful Canadian men’s track relay team of all time
JF: I know you remain very active with Canadian track and field. In the past you have been very active with the Edmonton International Track Classic. What does this event mean to young Canadian track and field athletes?
DB: I try to remain active with Athletics Canada. That is who I do some work with. It is very important for me to be a role model to the next generation of track and field sprinters.
JF: What advice would you give Canadian youth who dream of becoming world-class track and field athletes?
DB: First of all, I would tell them to set no limits to what they can achieve. Right now when I see the Canadian team, they are probably faster and have more talent across the board than we did, and we were the number one team in the world for seven years. What I tell young kids as well as the teams today, is to shoot for the moon. You have unlimited potential, great resources, great facilities, good support and amazing fans. So what they should do is get out there, train hard and get ready.