With the Rio Olympics in full swing, and with Track & Field (more importantly, the 100M races, the premier event of the Olympics) about to start, many of us that come from a West Indian background are looking forward to what Usain Bolt is going to do. Bolt is looking to become the first sprinter to ever claim 3 sprint Golds in three consecutive Olympics, which will forever solidify him as the greatest sprinter, if he isn’t already. On top of that, if you’re rooted both in West Indian and Canadian culture, your interest in Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse, to see if he can accomplish a repeat performance of last year’s IAAF World Championships, is paramount. But, as the title dictates, this is #FlashbackFriday Videos, so lemme take you back…….
To understand the excitement for Donovan Bailey, you have to revisit the excitement Ben Johnson brought to Canada back in the mid-to late 80’s. The Americans, as long as I could remember, were always the big, bad, cocky sprinters. The sprinters that were better than their competitors, and were not afraid to tell you about it. Carl Lewis was by far the worst of them. As great as he was, he always came off as an arrogant asshole that ended up being a villain to us in a lot of ways. There was no competition for him, until Ben Johnson started rising up the ranks in 1986 & ’87, beating Lewis & setting World Record times in the process. Everything came together in the ’88 Seoul Games, when the rivalry between Lewis & Johnson was at an all-time high.
Once the race ended with Ben holding up his index finger to the sky, crossing the finish line with an unheard of time of 9.79s, coupled with the the look of confusion on Lewis’ face, my household, much like others across the country, lost our motherfu**in’ minds. I was still in elementary school those times, so at that moment, Ben Johnson officially qualified as a superhero to me. I put him right alongside Magic Johnson, Mike Tyson, Wayne Gretzky, Optimus Prime, and He-Man. Within three days of those celebrations, well…. you know how the rest of the story goes. Steroid scandal, stripped of medals and records; then the infamous Dubin Inquiry, along with embarrassment, shame, and anger from the rest of Canada. Then the eventual comeback (which I rooted for), followed by another steroid scandal, then a lifetime ban from the sport; then sadly becoming somewhat of a sideshow, to finally then hanging on for dear life of celebrity status by pitching those “Cheetah Power Surge” Energy drinks. Remember that? The, “I Cheetah all the time” TV spots? Sigh. Let’s just say it had the opposite effect of those Robbie Alomar “McCain Punch” commercials. Lord give me strength.
Either way, we never knocked Carl Lewis off his throne. He participated in two more Olympics and staked his claim as one of the greatest Olympians ever. The only karma that came back on him, was his belief that he would knock out the US National Anthem, and the sobering results afterwards. Marvin Gaye he sure as hell wasn’t.
By the time we got to the ’96 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the Americans were as cocky as ever in the 100M. However, much like the ’88 games, Canada had someone in Donovan Bailey, who not only could compete with those US sprinters, but had also won the World Championships the year before. So even though it was new primetime players in the field, the anticipation was at a dizzingly high level. I can even tell you where I was when this race happened. I had come back home to Montreal for the summer, and I was about to start getting ready to head out that night with my friends. Almost all of my siblings returned home that weekend, and we all watched the race in the kitchen where the TV was set up. The memories of Ben Johnson still felt fresh, and we needed some sort of retribution for going through that saga as fans. All I remembered thinking was something to the affect of, “Please Donovan, PLEASE win this race for us. We need this!”, as if his win would wash over everything that happened in ’88. All of our stomachs were in knots. Then a few minutes later, this happened:
Across the country, Bailey was celebrated like a hero. He was a rock star. He followed that up by running anchor on the Canadian 4x100M Relay Team, that not only put to rest who the baddest boys on the track were, but they annihilated the Americans in a way that had never happened to them before. It was glorious. Did he get love by the media across the border? Of course he did. How did they show love, you ask? After decades and decades of the winner of the 100M Finals in the Olympics being viewed as the world’s fastest man, the media promptly went out and declared Michael Johnson (the star of the ’96 Olympics, and winner of the 200M & 400M events) the fastest man in the world. Unsurprisingly, this pissed off Bailey, & Canada even more.
It led to one of the more underrated events in sports history: A 150M race between Johnson & Bailey at The Skydome in Toronto, to settle once and for all who the fastest man on Earth was. There was something that felt schoolyard-ish about it. They didn’t even need to run it at the Skydome, I think they would have been cool running the race in front of the Eaton Centre, running from Yonge & Dundas & turned left at Yonge & Shuter, with people side betting on the sidewalk. Of course, he ended up beating down Johnson (who ended up pulling his Quad halfway through the race, although Bailey was leading him at the time), and ended up talking endless shit afterwards. It was great, and amazing.
Everything comes back to the Atlanta Olympics 20 years ago. Outside of Muhammad Ali holding the torch, and lighting the Olympic flame during the opening ceremony, that was one of my favorite Olympic moments from those games. Actually, it’s one of my favorite Olympics moments, period. It was such a great time for Canadian Track & Field, with the way Bailey & company dominated the track. It’s almost impossible to clear up all the scars that the Ben Johnson saga left on a nation, but Bailey’s achievements let us heal somewhat. He created a proud moment for us Canadians, and as West Indians. As we lead into this weekend’s 100M Finals (get that medal De Grasse!), here’s some #FlashBackFriday props to Donovan Bailey, for proudly carrying Canada’s hopes & dreams on his back……in 9.84 seconds.
*** Bonus Segment! Bonus Segment! ***
CAL CEE’S SOUTH SHORE AVE STORIES
Ok, before we go, seeing that we’re in the #FlashBackFriday mode right now, let me share a quick and funny story about the time that I met Donovan Bailey. Please, all I ask of you is to read this story in Charlie Murphy’s voice.
So back in the early 2000s, myself, Big Brotha Curt, and some other friends, used to play in a Men’s Basketball League in Mississauga, ON on Saturdays. Back then, it was arguably the best league in the GTA, as many of the best former & current ballers would play in this league that lasted about 6-7 months. Our team was usually one of the top teams in this league, I believe we won the league at least a few times, and was usually competing for the Finals every year. One year, I believe it was either 2002 or 2003, Donovan Bailey had his own team in the league. Now, I never knew Donovan to be a ballplayer, but I can’t lie, I was excited to play his team, just to meet him and to give him props for his Olympic moment. Something I’m sure he’s only heard about 100,000 times from people, but still.
So at some point later in the season, we finally play his team. As both teams are warming up and getting ready for the game to start, I contemplated crossing half court to be a fan for a few seconds just to essentially tell him “Thanks” for that Olympic moment. I flashed back to that night I was celebrating with my family, and how I partied with friends late into the morning after he marked his dominance at the best sprinter in the world. But, I decided against it, and figured if anything, I’ll wait until after the game and tell him.
It was probably a good thing I decided on this option.
Partway through the first half, Bailey gets off the bench and subs into the game. While his team was trying to reorganize who each of them would be guarding, Bailey didn’t even waste time with all that noise. He already knew who he was going to beast, and he let the entire gym know it.
“I GOT HIM!!! I GOT THIS GUY!!!!!”
As he basically shouted this out loud for everyone to hear, I couldn’t help but notice…… he was pointing and looking directly at me.
Ummmmm…..what the fu**?!?!
It was such a surreal moment. I actually looked behind me to see if he was talking to someone else. Once I noticed the only person standing behind me was the referee, it clicked like, “Oh shit, he’s talking to me, he’s really talking ’bout me!”
His team had possession on offense. As soon as they inbounded the ball, he proceeded to try to lock me in the post, screaming out, “MISMATCH!! MISMATCH!! GIMME THE ROCK!! MISMATCH!!!”
While he’s screaming out to his team to give him the ball so he can try to Dream Shake me to death like Hakeem Olajuwon, I felt like I was having a near out-of-body experience. I’m guarding him & looking back incredulously at my bench, as my teammates are about 38 seconds away from laughing their asses off at me. All these thoughts start racing through my mind. “Did this guy scout me during the season? Does he think I suck?? Do….do I owe him money?!?! I know this is basketball, and we’re all super competitive, but why is Donovan treating me like I’m Michael Johnson???? Wait, wait….hold up…… DOES HE REALLY THINK I FU**ING SUCK?!?!??!?!?!?”
As soon as he got the ball, he took about 3-4 steps before he shot it. Travel. He looked at me, and the shit didn’t even faze him as we were running back the other way.
“Make sure you come back to me every time. EVERY TIME!! I GOT THIS!!!”, he yelled to his teammates.
As I felt the competitive anger start coursing through my body, and the fandom part of me started packing up a Go Bag to exit out of my mind, I looked back at him with a mixture of shock, confusion, venom, and weirdly, some admiration. I slightly admired the fact that this man truly believed in his mind he was gonna whup my ass all over the floor. And we were on a basketball court, not the starting blocks. So I made sure after that, as long as I guarded him, he would not get a shot off, or even the ball.
I can’t tell you how much I scored, or how much we won the game by (yes, we DID win. What?), all I know is that afterwards, I was thinking there was no way in mothafu**in’ hell I was approaching him after the game now. I was playing the Petty Pendergrass role like I was trying to win a Oscar by the time the buzzer ended. To this day, I still catch jokes about the time Bailey tried to call me out from out of the blue with my brother and other friends who were there that day. We all laugh about it now, shiiit even then. Looking back at it though, who the hell knows where that even came from. Maybe he was trying to psych himself up to play, maybe he thought I was someone else that he didn’t like, maybe he thought I really did owe him money. Whatever the case, I got a glimpse into the competitive spirit that he carried with him, even in a men’s league basketball on some random Saturday afternoon all those years ago.
It was probably that almost irrational confidence and belief that made him think he would be the fastest man alive 20+ years ago, when he was training his ass off to get to Atlanta, and yet again when Michael Johnson started barking up the wrong tree. It’s something that we all need to do from time to time. Don’t be afraid to think of yourself as great, to get on your Kanye shit, and let that confidence spill outside the box sometimes. No matter the platform. You may be better off for it. That’s the point I take from that story. For that, maybe I should have still gave him daps after the game. Or then again, maybe I should have celebrated after we beat his team up. Who knows.
Where was DelRays when I needed it.