By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun
SYDNEY -- Donovan Bailey walked out of the Olympic Stadium yesterday, having ended the defence of his 1996 sprint crown a tired and defeated man.
"It's not how it is supposed to be," Bailey said, his voice rasping from emotion and illness. "I was the king."
At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the Oakville sprinter ruled the track world. Today, his future in the sport is in doubt.
Time and again, Bailey has faced adversity and beaten the odds. This time he ran up against a viral infection and lost.
In a stunning development, the 32-year-old sprinter failed to qualify for this morning's 100-metre semis, finishing eighth in his quarter-final in 11.36. Lining up in Lane 1 in the third heat, Bailey, who false-started once, sputtered to one of his patented slow starts. But unlike other races, when he would accelerate past the field, he just couldn't find a higher gear. At about the 50-metre mark, fading badly, he shut down and wandered slowly down the track, apparently in an daze.
"It's tough, man," Bailey said, fighting hard not to break down. "I can't really describe it. It's just one of those things. Sometimes you can't control everything."
Canada's other great sprinter, Bruny Surin of Montreal, finished third in his heat in 10.20, good enough for a berth in the semi-finals. But because of a sore hamstring there was doubt last night over how much further he can progress.
Bailey contracted a viral infection early in the week and has been feverish, tired and weak ever since. There were reports that both he and Surin wouldn't even make it to the starting blocks yesterday.
"When I got here this morning, I'm telling you, I couldn't move," Bailey said. "I got in the blocks knowing that I was feeling flat. I hadn't slept and I couldn't breath. I was just thinking about getting down the track.
"(But) I had to go. I said to Bruny before coming out, 'Man, I've been captain of the ship since '94.'
"I called a friend in Toronto and he told me there are two kinds of people, there are champions and there are quitters. I thought (to myself), 'You're not a quitter. You've got to run.'
"I couldn't breathe for the last 75 metres," Bailey said. "I was trying to muscle my way in, but you can't do that in the 100 metres. You have to go in phases. You have to have a plan and you have to relax and breathe."
It has been a tough couple of years for Bailey, who exploded on to the international scene by winning the world championship 100-metre title in 1995 and the Olympic gold the next year. The Jamaican-born runner, who moved to Canada at age 13, survived a horrific car crash in 1997 and suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon playing pickup basketball in 1998, an injury that almost ended his career. He overcame that, only to suffer a pulled hamstring earlier this season. Just as he recovered from that problem, he got sick.
The writing was not on the wall for a great 2000 season.
"I could have retired after I ruptured my Achilles, but I thought, no one's ever run 10.5 with a ruptured Achilles. I thought I could come back and win the Olympic Games," Bailey said. "I'm still sure that if everything worked, I was capable of winning here. I guess I didn't put sickness into the equation."
The fastest qualifier heading into this morning's semis was Obadele Thompson of the Barbados, who won his heat three in 10.04. World champion Maurice Greene won his heat in 10.10, while clubmate Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Tobago won his in 10.11.