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Saturday, September 23, 2000

Bailey didn't have to run ... he wanted to

 SYDNEY -- He had a legitimate absentee slip if he wanted to use it.

 Donovan Bailey didn't have to compete. He didn't have to go to the starting line.

 He was ill. The minute he arrived in Sydney, he went straight to his place in the Eastern Suburbs and lay in bed with an IV stuck in his arm for two straight days.

 Not exactly a promising way to start an Olympic 100-metre title defence.

 The 32-year-old Canadian certainly had a better excuse to pull out of these Games than, say, French 400-metre fugitive Marie-Jose Perec, who fled Australia rather than face Cathy Freeman (the Aussie papers took that one in stride, running headlines like: 'Mademoiselle La Chicken').


 Bailey could've ducked out, too. He could've taken a 'Did Not Start' and left everyone forever wondering, `Would he have had enough stuff if he felt up to snuff?'

 But instead, he stuck his neck on the line, went out in front of 110,000 people in Olympic Stadium and the billions watching at home, and tried to prove something.

 He competed, even though five metres into it, he was toast. He competed, even though 20 metres from the finish line, he pulled up and let momentum carry him over the line.

 On the sidelines, American sprinter Maurice Green stopped his strutting and interviews to watch Bailey's heat.

 Once Bailey pulled up, Green immediately started strutting around the track again like he owned it, and turned back to his all-important, earth-shattering interviews.

 But as Bailey fell on his face, this question popped up: 'Would Mo have done this?'

 If Maurice Green felt the way Bailey did, would he have gone out there and gave it a go?

 How about Jon Drummond and Ato Boldon?

 Would they have gone to the starting line in Bailey's situation?

 I doubt it.

 All sprinters have egos. It's the nature of having to race a distance so short with so little margin of error.

 You have to be perfect. You have to feel perfect.

 There is no doubt Donovan Bailey has an ego.

 And we saw it in SkyDome, when he dumped a good helping of verbal trash all over Michael Johnson as the gold-footed American limped around, holding his leg in defeat during that bizarre 150-metre exhibition.


 And we saw it in Winnipeg at the Pan Ams when he took the equivalent of an appearance fee but then only ran the relay. Bailey lost some Canadian fans during both those episodes.

 But Donovan Bailey will also have won some back by running last night.

 "I wanted to be part of the Games," he said amid his disappointment.

 And that, more than the heavyweight champion-size entourage he brought to Sydney, speaks volumes about Bailey.

 In the end, away from all the hype, he is a man who wanted to run here.

 He had absolutely nothing to prove. No one could expect him to do what he did in '96 all over again.

 But he gave it a try.

 And it was an admirable thing to do.