McDonald Bailey: Athlete

Olympic sprint bronze medallist who achieved unwanted fame through one game of rugby league

McDonald Bailey was a high-class sprinter in the middle years of the 20th century who later achieved a different sort of fame on the basis of one game of rugby league.Born in the memorably named village of Hard Bargain in Trinidad, he was a champion schoolboy sprinter, who chose, as the rules on colonial athletes permitted, to run for Great Britain. He was to dominate the 100 and 200 metres in his adopted country, seven times achieving the double of winning over both distances at the Amateur Athletic Association Championships.

At the 1948 London Olympics he finished last in the 100m final but in Helsinki four years later won bronze in a blanket finish, recording the same time of 10.4 as the runners who finished first and second. Perhaps most impressive, in Belgrade in 1951 he equalled the world record of 10.2 set by Jesse Owens in 1936. It was a record that lasted into the 1960s.

Bailey competed at a time of draconian regulations on amateurism and twice ran into conflict with the AAA. One case concerned his endorsement of a brand of starting blocks; the other was over a training manual, If It’s Speed You’re After. The AAA suspended him over the second infraction, though he won an appeal.

But in July 1953 Bailey took the sensational step of signing to play rugby league for Leigh. He was 32 and he had played no rugby of any kind, but Leigh clearly hoped his pace alone would be enough to make him a success. His signing-on fee was reported at the time as being £1,000, plus two further instalments of £1,000 based on appearances. He was to come nowhere near claiming those extra payments.

Bailey’s famous single appearance was in a specially arranged game against Wigan in the December, the degree of interest demonstrated by a crowd of 14,996 at Hilton Park, a handsome turn-out for a friendly. Leigh won 11-3 and even contrived to lay on a try for Bailey, but it was obvious to anyone, himself included, that he was completely lost on the rugby pitch. Two months later he announced his retirement.

Thus ended one of the shortest careers in the history of the game, but it was not quickly forgotten. For a couple of decades and more the BBC’s rugby league commentator, Eddie Waring, was still reminding viewers about him, and the name of the Trinidadian Flyer is still invoked whenever a club signs an athlete with no experience of rugby, most recently when Dwain Chambers was taken on trials by Castleford.

Bailey was accepted back into athletics, to a degree, when he coached the Trinidad and Tobago team at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Later he and his wife, Doris, ran a successful restaurant in Port of Spain. He remains one of the greatest athletes to be produced by that now independent nation, although the fact that he ran for Britain has sometimes denied him his due of recognition. Whenever a rugby league club makes a fanciful, headline-grabbing signing that is destined to end in tears, however, the name of McDonald Bailey is forever remembered.

Emmanuel McDonald Bailey, athlete and rugby league footballer: born Williamsville, Trinidad 8 December 1920; married Doris (two sons, three daughters); died Port of Spain, Trinidad 4 December 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Production Administrator

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading and fastest ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sunroom / Conservatory / Extension Designers

£16000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Planning Assistant

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working for one of the count...

Recruitment Genius: Purchase Ledger Administrator

£5120 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working for one of the countr...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence