Eight years ago, the Olympics saw tears of a different kind associated with the maple emblem as Ben Johnson was stripped of the Olympic 100 metres title and world record. Now both have been restored to Canada by this genial, articulate 28-year-old.
Bailey overtook the pre-race favourites, Frankie Fredericks and Ato Boldon, over the final 30 metres to come home in 9.84sec, 0.01sec inside Leroy Burrell's world mark. "I didn't think about the world record," he said, "because every time I go into a race thinking about times I always screw up. I knew the main thing to do was just relax. At 70 metres I knew I had it there and it was just a case of 'relax and go home'."
He would like his achievement to be seen on its own, but is smart enough to realise that it will always be set in context. "I'm not trying to undo what Ben did in Seoul," he said. "My name's Donovan Bailey. But I think that no matter what happens in history, no matter what we do, that is always going to come up. Because it was such a big thing."
His late surge in the final mirrored his career progression. He did not break 11sec for the 100m until the age of 23, when his main concern was his job as a stockbroker. In the intervening years, however, he has travelled very far, very fast. Last summer he won the Canadian title in what was a personal best of 9.91 before adding the world title in Gothenburg.
Like Linford Christie, Bailey was born in Jamaica, where he spent his early life before his family moved to Canada. In the aftermath of his win, he made it clear how he views himself. "I'm Jamaican, man," he said with a wide grin. "I'm Jamaican first."
While Boldon, who finished third and 0.01sec behind Fredericks in 9.90, admitted he had allowed the interruptions surrounding Christie's disqualification to get to him, Bailey, always a laid-back character, viewed things differently. "I had time to relax and think about what I had to do," he said. The attitude of a champion.
The story goes that after his world title win, he returned to his new home town of Toronto and attempted to get into a nightclub for free - unsuccessfully. The man on the door did not recognise him. Should Bailey care to return, there is not likely to be a problem this time round.
HOW THE 100 METRES RECORD HAS EVOLVED
10.6 sec Donald Lippincott (US) 6.7.12
10.4 sec Charles Paddock (US) 23.4.21
10.3 sec Percy Williams (Canada) 9.8.30
10.2 sec Jesse Owens (US) 20.6.36
10.1 sec Willie Williams (US) 3.8.56
10.0 sec Armin Hary (West Ger) 21.6.60
9.95 sec Jim Hines (US) 14.10.68
9.93 sec Calvin Smith (US) 3.7.83
9.92 sec Carl Lewis (US) 24.9.88
9.90 sec Leroy Burrell (US) 14.6.91
9.86 sec Carl Lewis (US) 25.8.91
9.85 sec Leroy Burrell (US) 6.7.94
9.84 sec Donovan Bailey (Can) 27.7.96Reuse content