He’s a Canadian athletic legend, and sprinting is the name of his game. Donovan Bailey is a world record holder, Olympic champion, and world champion, bringing pride to Canada since the early 90s. But Bailey did not always dream of being a sprinter, and it was not something that his parents encouraged. We sat down with the superstar to discuss his legendary career and his new TV show, Canada’s Ultimate Challenge.
Bailey said that he has been interested in athletics from a young age. Growing up in Jamaica, his love of sports grew from his participation in his school’s “sports day,” similar to track-and-field days at Canadian schools. Though he says he knew he had a God-given talent, his parents urged him to focus on his studies.
“They weren’t drivers of sport in the house, it was more academics,” Bailey told The Brandon Gonez Show.
“That’s kind of how it is. Most grassroots Caribbean or Jamaican parents, they definitely want their kids to be successful academically.”
Bailey enjoyed playing basketball and soccer as a child, saying that he was always the kid who could run the fastest, and jump the farthest and the highest.
“It got to the point where I knew I had the gifts, just based on the people around me, to be the very best at some point,” Bailey said.
Donovan Bailey: The Making of a Legend
Bailey moved to Canada in 1981, finished school, and began a career in business. As he got older, he noticed that some of the athletes he had competed against in school were making strides in their athletic careers, with some of them representing Canada professionally. Knowing he had been a better athlete than his peers while in school motivated Bailey to pursue sprinting as a career.
“My thought was that I used to beat them in high school and I did very little training then. So if they were on the national team, I was going to be the greatest.”
“When I started track-and-field representing Canada, there was a black cloud over or a stain on my sport. So I took the responsibility seriously, that I was going to restore Canada’s good name in sport,” he said.
“As a Black man sometimes there are incredible negative narratives so I thought it was my responsibility not only to compete at the highest level, win at the highest level, break records at the highest level, but also to educate people on how we are as a culture and then how we are as a country,” Bailey shared.
He says that he’s reminded of the importance of his career every day. He shared that people who are touched by his career and inspired by him come up and thank him often.
“For a long time, I didn’t know what that was. But obviously in reflecting on my own personal career and then having conversations with people that will explain what it meant to them and what it meant to their family, what it meant to their life, what it meant culturally, obviously I have to embrace that,” he continued.
A Man of Many Accomplishments
His accomplishments make him one of the greatest sprinters of all time and in 2000, Bailey was named Sprinter of the Decade by Track and Field News. Despite this, the athlete says that being a father is his largest accomplishment. Second on the list? The connections he has made with other people.
“I got to share some incredible sporting moments with fans around the world, especially Canadians and people from the Caribbean, and my fans in you know Asia, Europe, Africa.”
“Apparently I’ve moved some people to the point that they’ve named their kids after me,” Donovan smiled, adding that these connections with other people are his biggest takeaway.
Bailey shared that he is a huge fan of the current Team Canada sprinters.
“As the person who kind of turned the program around, I get to watch Andre (De Grasse) and Aaron (Brown) and the rest of the team win,” Bailey smiled.
“Hopefully they can win as much as we did. I’m hoping Andre one day becomes the number one sprinter in the world.”
“I’m here being the biggest cheerleader because of the work that I put in before,” Bailey said with pride.
Coach Bailey on Canada’s Ultimate Challenge
Bailey is now serving as a coach on an exciting new Canadian gameshow. Canada’s Ultimate Challenge is a competition series that sees participants travel across Canada while competing in different challenges.
The show features the beautiful landscape of Canada and is anchored by snowboarder and sports analyst Craig McMorris and sports broadcaster Nikki Reyes. Canada’s Ultimate Challenge features six teams of four athletes who are coached by Olympians Donovan Bailey, Waneek Horn-Miller, Clara Hughes, Gilmore Junio, Jen Kish, and NFL Super Bowl champion Luke Willson.
“Twenty-four players compete in solo, tandem, and team challenges, pushing themselves to the limit,” reads a release.
“I think the best part for me was trying to figure out what made everyone tick,” Bailey shared, adding that he enjoyed one-on-one conversations with the athletes, and prepping them for the competition.
“The number one thing people will enjoy is seeing how beautiful Canada is,” he explained.
“There were pockets that we travelled in Canada that I didn’t know existed, or I didn’t know it was that beautiful.”
Coach Bailey shared some advice for those who aspire to be professional athletes themselves.
“Do not have expectations if you have not put the work in,” Bailey said.
“Whether it’s 10,000 hours or 20,000 hours, you need to put the work in,” he continued, adding that people should also consider their rest and relaxation.
But he has another tip, always build a good team.
“My parents were my greatest supporters and, you know, I’m one of four boys. But not only that, my coaches in high school, in basketball, in other sports. My school was always behind me, even when I went to college,” he shared
“I always had people who would challenge me to be my better self, and so I tell the same thing to kids these days. You want someone to challenge you to be your better self,” Bailey shared.
He shared that he still has a team that supports him.
“Regardless of what I’m doing in the world I always have people that I can look to, to help me. Because I believe [in] being a constant student about every single thing that I do,” he explained.