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Saturday, September 23, 2000

In the end, it was sad

 SYDNEY -- Donovan Bailey was about 50 metres down the track when he pulled the parachute and officially ended an era.

 The former fastest man in the world, the defending Olympic gold medal winner and world champion knew when he pulled up exactly what it meant.

 "This is it,'' he said. "This is the last time I'll be at the Olympic Games.

 "The last time I was here I was king. This is not how it was supposed to be.''

 Maybe a chance to have a swan-song with his Olympic gold medal mates, his two-time world championship chums on the 4 x 100 relay team, will bring him back to run into the Canadian sunset next year in Edmonton. The 4 x 100 relay was intentionally rescheduled to be last on the program at Edmonton 2001 so it would work that way.

 Will he give that up now?


 "Maybe,'' he said.

 No matter if he's back on the track to say goodbye on Canadian soil next summer or not, it's not going to be the same after what happened here.

 With Bailey out in the second heat and Bruny Surin coming within a whisker of being out in the first heat but pulling off a minor miracle by finishing third in the second heat and making it to the semifinal, maybe both will decide this is not the way to leave.

 "Maybe he'll decide, 'Wait till next year,'' said Edmonton 2001 CEO Rick LeLacheur. "We're next year.''

 If there's a gold medal for spin-doctoring, LeLacheur just won it. Having this happen here stole some sizzle from the show. And if Canada doesn't score a medal here, it may take the flag away.

 But this wasn't about next year and how the first Worlds ever to be held in North America may have just lost their ultimate poster boy. Canada lost a legend who took us to the top of the world in the one event which stops the world once every four years for 10 seconds. There's nothing else in sport which can compare. And he put us up there. It was just sad he couldn't go out up there, in the final, healthy, in the next lane to Maurice Greene and Bruny Surin.

 I think we've all known for weeks and months that there wasn't going to be a happy ending to the Donovan Bailey story at the Olympic Games. But having to pull the parachute like that ...

 "It's tough, man,'' said Bailey. "I can't really describe it.

 "This is the big show, man. There's 100,000 people out there.''

 If it had been any other event but the Olympic Games, Bailey said he wouldn't have shown up.

 "It was my last time in the Olympic Games. I had to go. I thought it wouldn't be suitable for me to quit. I called a friend of mine in Toronto and he told me there are two kinds of people, there's champions and there's quitters, and I thought, 'You're not a quitter, you have to run.' ''

 Bailey was coughing as he spoke. He didn't make the stop after the first heat yesterday morning. But he took a half-hour with the media after his Olympics ended in the evening.

 He looked at a few regulars in the crowd, people who had covered him in recent world championships and Olympics.


 "Every championships you guys ever attended when I was healthy, I'm usually addressing you guys at a press conference after the race,'' he said.

 "I could have retired after I ruptured my Achilles but I thought 'No one has ever ran 10.5 with a ruptured Achilles tendon. I thought I could come back and win the Olympic Games. And you know, to this day, I'm still sure that if everything worked, I was capable of winning here. I guess I didn't put sickness into the equation.

 "I got here this morning and I couldn't move. I was just lumbering my way through. I couldn't breathe for the last 75 metres. I was trying to muscle my way in. You can't do that in the 100 metres.

 "It's definitely the flu. There's fluid in my lungs. I can't breathe. I could breathe for 20 metres. That's not good enough.''

 I noticed he wore his wristwatch during the heat. I asked him about it.

 "Like I say, I don't know what's going on with me today.''

 Ten or 15 years from now, the world won't remember Donovan Bailey pulling the parachute in a heat. Ten or 15 years from now the freeze frame will be him crossing the finish line in Atlanta and looking at the TV camera with that 'I'm the king of the world' expression on his face.

 That's the Donovan Bailey we'll all remember. Not this one.