Captures Olympic Gold
Bailey peaked as a sprinter in 1996, during the Olympic Games in Atlanta. Taking the gold medal in 100 meters, he set a world-record time of 9.84 seconds, becoming the fastest man in history. In his signature style, Bailey started at the back of the pack before over-taking his competitors in a dramatic midrace surge.
Although he became a star in Canada, Bailey did not become the fully-embraced national hero he had envisioned. Canada was still reeling from its 1988 Olympic disappointment, when Ben Johnson had captured the gold, only to forfeit it after the sprinter tested positive for steroids. Like Bailey, Johnson was a Jamaican-born Canadian, and Bailey was haunted by the media's frequent comparisons between him and the disgraced Johnson. Bailey, nonetheless, took pride in being a "clean" runner who never touched steroids or other drugs.
Bailey's next significant victory came in Toronto in 1997, when he beat American sprinter Michael Johnson (the Olympic 200- and 400-meter champion) in a one-to-one race to 150 meters. In mid-race, Johnson had clutched his thigh in pain, leaving Bailey to take the $1.5 million reward—the biggest athletic prize in history. Calling Johnson "a faker and a chicken," as Mike Rowbottom of the Independent quoted him, Bailey reveled in his win. Yet fans decried the brash sprinter's lack of sportsmanship.
Two months later, Bailey lost his world-championship title to another American, Maurice Greene. Bailey blamed his loss on his recent obsession over Johnson. "I found it was impossible to peak twice," he told Rowbottom. In 1999 Greene went on to break Bailey's world-record time, clocking 9.79 seconds in 100 meters.