‘Every 4 years the world stops for 10 seconds to watch the 100-meter race at the Olympics.’ These are the words of Donovan Bailey.

I certainly remember watching the 100-meter final at the 1996 Olympics and seeing Donovan Bailey winning in world record time.

Donovan Bailey, a 2-time Olympic champion, 3-times World Champion, and a former world record holder outlines how he went from a part-time sprinter to World Champion within a year, and to Olympic champion and world record holder in 2 years.

Donovan shares why he wants to be remembered as the guy who always smiled, why he believes that he needs to give back to the world, and why you should never ever settle.

Furthermore, we discuss

Christian: In this interview, I’m joined by Donovan Bailey. Donovan is a double Olympic Champion; three-time World Champion; former World Record Holder; Sport Canada Hall of Fame and Donovan, you held the Olympic record until Usain Bolt came along.

Donovan: That is absolutely true. There’s no better man to have to break your record than the greatest of all times so far. So Usain is a good man and yes, he broke what was the Olympic record at the time in 2008. He actually smashed it.

Christian: Absolutely. As you smashed it in 1996, hence you have two things in common. Welcome, Donovan.

Donovan: Thank you.

The reason why the 100-meter sprint at the Olympics is so cutthroat

Christian: Donovan, one thing that goes on in my head for a very, very long time, your discipline, the 100-meter sprint is, number one always in the highlight of the Olympic Games and number two, it seems to be very cutthroat. Apart from Usain Bolt and Carl Lewis, no one has done it back to back at the Olympics. Why do you think that is?

Donovan: I think you can always compare the 100 meters to what heavyweight boxing is, especially back when I competed. Every time you got into the lanes, it was war between the seven other competitors that you’re competing against.

So because it’s the ultimate event in the ultimate sporting event, and it’s only every four years, then obviously there’s an absolute need to make sure that you can destroy your opponents. Some of them, you destroy mentally and psychologically, and then for those who make it to the finals, you want to destroy them physically also.

Because it’s the ultimate event in the ultimate sporting event, and it’s only every four years, then obviously there’s an absolute need to make sure that you can destroy your opponents.

So, it’s definitely war, but for some of us who don’t take these things personally, you also become friends after. So the Olympic 100 meters, as we know, is the only event at the Olympic Games that the entire planet stops to see what happens in 10 seconds or under 10 seconds in most cases.

His darkest moment

Christian: I always start these interviews with asking difficult questions. After that, we can get into more fun stuff.

Donovan: No problem

Christian: What was your darkest moment as an athlete?

Donovan: I didn’t really have one. Mine was probably dealing with injuries. I ruptured my Achilles in the fall of 1998 and I came to the realization that you cannot have a surgically repaired leg because you’re running against people who have two legs, and they’re the very best on the planet doing it.

I came to the realization that you cannot have a surgically repaired leg because you’re running against people who have two legs, and they’re the very best on the planet doing it.

So it’s very, very hard to come back and compete against someone when you only have the use of one leg or one side of your body. So my darkest moment really would have been trying to compete for post-surgery against athletes that were able-bodied and obviously not trying to attempt to do what I was trying to do then.

The difficulty of being a Canadian 100-meter sprinter post the 1988 Olympic Games

Christian: And a question that interests me, how difficult was it to be a Canadian 100-meter sprinter post the 1988 Olympic Games?

Donovan: It was quite easy for me. I knew exactly what my structure was. I knew what my education was. I knew what my training partners, coaches, and my support system was.

Being an athlete is never a problem. Sometimes it’s very difficult if someone is trying to ask you questions about somebody else and you have no idea about that person. It wasn’t for me to answer.

It’s very difficult if someone is trying to ask you questions about somebody else and you have no idea about that person. It wasn’t for me to answer.

So, yes, I think that if there was a slight difficulty or probably more frustration because I can never answer the question of what another athlete did and this was also way before my time. I was in college then playing basketball. I’m a huge fan of track and field, so I obviously knew about the race in 1988 and then also track and field before that.

But for me to be the first man to be undisputed World Champion, Olympic Champion, and World Record Holder, the spotlight is going to be on me and I was going to have to answer all those questions whether I wanted to or not. So I gracefully answered them. It wasn’t that big of a problem for me. But yes, it wasn’t for me to answer.

His best moment

Christian: What was your best moment?

Donovan: Listen, my best moment, it’s still happening today. Obviously, my on-track best moments were probably something that you would probably not think about or nobody else would.

In 1994, when I was at the Golden Gala Rome Meets, when I got out of the blocks, I was leading. Carl Lewis and Linford Christie and all the great stars were in the race and I looked over at all of them. I was looking to see where I was, and I was leading in the middle of the race, but I ended up coming forth and so I was very disappointed and angry.

I ended up coming forth, but on that day, I realized that I was one of the best. And that I was going to be one of the best, but I also realized to mind my own business, stay in my own lane, and stay disciplined and focused.

On that day, I realized that I was one of the best. And that I was going to be one of the best, but I also realized to mind my own business, stay in my own lane, and stay disciplined and focused.

So that’s actually probably one of the best moments for me because it was an awakening that my coach had been saying all along that I was going to be the best sprinter in history. And certainly, all the titles are awesome. I got to travel the entire world and meet some incredible people, most of which I’m still friends with today.

So, I continue to meet fans today. I meet people that their parents have named them after me, so, it’s all good things, and I get to live this, every single day.

Christian: Yes, that’s cool. Believe it or not, I’ve actually taken that as a note. You spoke about that in another interview that this was the deciding moment in your career.

The thing I wanted to know, you said you didn’t win the race, but you knew you will be the next champion. Why is that? Did you know you had so much more potential?

Donovan: Number one, it was my first full season on the Diamond League circuit. And number two, I was racing against the very best people at that time; the very best people in the world.

So if I make such crazy mistakes and I had not had an actual fall base speed training, if I was doing all of those things and I was in the race and I came fourth and I was in the middle of the race and leading at some points during the race, then yes, I knew I had the potential to become the best.

I was racing against the very best people at that time; the very best people in the world. So if I make such crazy mistakes and I came fourth. I knew I had the potential to become the best.

I called my coach and told him what happened. He reminded me that he told me to focus and affirmed that I could beat those guys. I told him that that was perfect and I would finish out the season and then the following year, which would be 1995, I would tackle the record books.

Christian: And that’s when you became World Champion?

Donovan: Yes.

His advice to a younger Donovan Bailey

Christian: If you could travel back in time, 30 years maybe, what advice would you give a younger Donovan?

Donovan: You know what, I’d probably tell my young self to be more patient. I certainly lived in the moment then. I probably didn’t train as hard as I should have. I networked very well then, so I think probably be patient and enjoy my times.

These are going to be the greatest moments of my life, so enjoy it. Create and cultivate relationships and network. Set myself up for what I am today, but set myself up for future business.

Create and cultivate relationships and network. Set myself up for what I am today, but set myself up for future business.

But yes, just be more patient and maybe work a little harder, who knows? But all in all, there’s not a whole lot of things that I regret from my younger self.

Christian: That’s really cool.

How he went from part-time sprinter to World Champion in one year and from part-time sprinter to Olympic Champion and world record holder in two years

Christian: Wikipedia says you began competing as a 100-meter sprinter part-time in 1991 and then took it seriously in 1994. How do I have to understand that?

So you went from part-time to World Champion in one year and from part-time to Olympic Champion and world record holder in two years?

Donovan: Yes, well, first of all, one thing is this, I ran track in high school. So as a 15-year-old, I was running 10.05. So I think that my Wikipedia needs to be edited properly.

As a high scholar and as a middle scholar in Jamaica, I was one of the fastest sprinters on the island, and that means I was nine, 10, 11, 12 years old. Moving to Canada full-time after boarding school, clearly, I was one of the best guys in high school in Canada, but I loved basketball.

So basketball is still my favorite sport today as it was then. So 1991, there were two friends of mine that were trying to make the Canadian national team. I’d been playing basketball all along. I wanted to go and watch them compete and I ended up borrowing some clothes and ran the 100 meters.

I beat the guys in our region, and those guys belong to clubs, so they were training. I was in great shape because I played basketball, probably five to seven times a week. So with no training, I was able to meet and to beat these guys.

So that’s 1991. I went to the Canadian Indoor Championships and I was fourth. I was undefeated going into that meet. I made the outdoor team. I represented Canada in 1991 at the Pan-Am Games, but again, I was only training part-time. It didn’t really matter to me.

So I ended up injured every single year from 1991 to 1993. I made the team all those years. I got injured because I was never actually training. I never lift weights ever.

I was at the clubs hanging out with my friends and I was out partying all the time. I was working in corporate Canada. So yes, it was just part-time. It was just a fun time for me.

So when I met with my coach Dan Pfaff in Stuttgart in 1993, he just told me that I needed to take it seriously and when I took it seriously, I could be better than anyone else in history. I ended up moving to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in March of 1994.

I was at the clubs hanging out with my friends and I was out partying all the time. So when I met with my coach Dan Pfaff in Stuttgart in 1993, he just told me that I needed to take it seriously and when I took it seriously, I could be better than anyone else in history.

And, of course, the story goes on from there where I was one of the best sprinters in the world in 1994 after just being in a structured training place where I got to do weights for the first time in my life in 1994. I understood nutrition for the first time.

I never really ate terribly but I understood nutrition for the body and also most importantly, I understood rest and therapy. So, obviously, I was treating my body like a temple for the very first time.

His one piece of advice to the youth

Christian: You are involved in philanthropic projects and you mentor the youth. If you could give one piece of advice to the youth, what would it be?

Donovan: First of all, you have to be disciplined and you have to work hard to achieve your goal. But, most importantly, when you get to your goal and you’re blessed, you should always give back to people who are less fortunate.

When you get to your goal and you’re blessed, you should always give back to people who are less fortunate.

I grew up that way. That’s just part of what my parents taught me and what I teach my kids and what I tell everybody in the world right now.

We’re all blessed, so once you’re all blessed, you definitely need to give back to the people that are less fortunate than you because ultimately that’s just karma for me personally. I’m not standing out looking for something, but if you give, you’ll always get.

Christian: That’s really cool.

His success habits

Christian: What are the habits that make you a successful athlete and person?

Donovan: Well, you know what? I think that sometimes your habit can be very annoying. Sometimes your habits can be very bad.

I was watching the Michael Jordan documentary, “The Last Dance” and it’s funny because we have so many parallels. I’m someone who is very obsessive-compulsive, so I do the same things, I eat the same way, so it’s very monotonous and sometimes that’s annoying people around you. But if that’s your way of being successful, then you should follow those things.

I’m someone who is very obsessive-compulsive, so I do the same things, I eat the same way, so it’s very monotonous and sometimes that’s annoying people around you. But if that’s your way of being successful, then you should follow those things.

But for every single athlete, success is really customized in every single event, in every single sport. The nuances that you personally have are those things that are going to make you successful, so do not change them.

These things work for you and if these are the things that work for you, continue those same habits that are going to allow you to get to the top of your podium in whatever sport or whatever business. These very same habits are the same things that the greatest CEOs in the world practice or the greatest CFOs in the world practice.

It’s the exact same thing as the greatest swimmer or cyclist or athlete in the world practice. It’s the exact same principle. All it is is in a different genre or a different lane. That’s all.

Why he wants to be remembered as the guy who always smiled

Christian: I saw in an interview, you said you want to be remembered as the guy who always smiles. Is that something that comes naturally to you or do you practice it?

Donovan: I think that sometimes people misinterpret. Here’s the crazy thing. Let me explain this in chronological order. The world has gotten to know me through the lens of the 100 meters. So basically what people have seen, what the world has seen, is only me at work, only me in my competitive place.

But in actual fact, I’m probably one of the easiest going, happy-go-lucky person. I’m a serious business person, for sure, and I’m a serious father and I can be a serious person, but 85/90% of the time, I’m easy going, and happy-go-lucky, the smiling guy who wants the very best of everybody.

The glass is always half full. I’m definitely the one that’s going to be the motivator in the room. I expect every single person to follow their dreams, to work really hard to achieve their goals.

The glass is always half full. I’m definitely the one that’s going to be the motivator in the room. I expect every single person to follow their dreams, to work really hard to achieve their goals.

But yes, smiling’s a normal thing for me. Smiling was a normal thing to me, even when I competed. At the starting line, I was smiling. It’s just that when I got in the blocks, it was time for serious business.

If I’m in an interview, I was always smiling. If I was modeling, I was smiling. If I was at that nightclub, I was smiling. If I was at dinner, I was smiling. So yes, man, that smiling is a natural thing for me and I think that when someone smiles, it’s infectious and it’s very positive.

Christian: Yes. There’s also this saying that if you smile at the world, the world smiles back at you.

Donovan: That’s exactly right. I’ve been very blessed, Christian. Absolutely. The world has smiled upon me every single day and continues to do this today.

                                The world has smiled upon me every single day and continues to do this today.

His morning routine

Christian: Do you have a morning routine?

Donovan: No, not right now; not anymore. I shouldn’t say that. I shouldn’t say no. My structure has changed.

When I was an athlete, I’d wake up when I woke up. So I’d go to bed usually at about 12 o’clock at night. I want to sleep for nine hours. When I wake up, obviously, my favorite meal of the day, or for me always has been breakfast.

Whether some people believed it or not, that always either includes a cup of coffee or a cup of tea, but there’s always a really good breakfast: fruits, an omelet, and toast. That’s always been my routine.

So my routine now is really different because I probably go to bed later or earlier. When I wake up, breakfast is still really important, but I don’t have to wake up and be regimented about exactly what I eat because I’m not leaving to go to the track to go train for between six and eight hours.

I might go to the golf course now, but it’s not the same. My routine is probably adjusted, let’s just say. I got up before I knew exactly how much I had to eat. And then I had to essentially pack a lunch as I have to eat every couple of hours.

Now I have breakfast, I might have a light lunch and then I have dinner. All of those usually consists of really awesome food. A lot of it that I didn’t eat when I was competing.

How to prepare for important moments

Christian: How do you prepare yourself for important moments?

Donovan: It depends on what moment that is. How do I prepare myself for an interview with you, which is an important moment today? I breathe and I relax. When I do that, I have the ability to recapture and remember great events that happened in my life.

I breathe and I relax. When I do that, I have the ability to recapture and remember great events that happened in my life.

So many questions that you come at me with, I have the ability to answer that directly and thoroughly, and that’s kind of how I look at everything. If I’m going to the golf course, I practice, I go there, and I get some swings in at the driving range.

When I was competing in track and field, I’d get to the track hour and a half before my competition. I would stretch out, get a massage, I’d come out and do a couple of sprints. If I’m doing a corporate speech, it’s the same thing. I understand it’s breathing still.

It always starts with breathing, but it’s almost like I’m setting myself up physically, mentally, and psychologically for whatever challenge is in front of me. So, my programming is still the same for anything.

Whether again, today, the most important thing I’m doing is this interview, unless I’m going to go play golf after, or anything that I’m doing anyway. There is always a chronological systematic thing that I do to prepare to make that situation go as smoothly as possible.

His sub-optimal start in the Olympic final, and how he managed to still bring it home in world record time

Christian: And if we go back in time in that Olympic final in 1996, the individual 100 meters. When you went into the arena, what went through your head? That is question number one. When you got out of the start, you had a bit of a sub-optimal start, but you still brought it home. And on top of that in world record time. Just talk us through it.

Donovan: Well, first of all, when I went to Atlanta the 100 meters was for me to lose. That’s it! I was so confident it didn’t really matter to me. I’d been touring with Frankie [Fredericks] all year. I knew where his weak spots were.

Ato Boldon, phenomenal guy, great starter, so I certainly can capitalize on that. Linford was the reigning champion, but I’d beaten Linford [Christie] several times before, and also knew that I could beat him on any given day.

So for me, going into the stadium I had all the confidence in the world. The world was on my shoulders and I had very broad strong shoulders.

When I went to Atlanta the 100 meters was for me to lose. So for me, going into the stadium I had all the confidence in the world. The world was on my shoulders and I had very broad strong shoulders.

The finals were a little crazy. I think that one of the things that my coach said to me after was that based on the times that I was running in practice, he felt that I would be running probably 9.6 high, or maybe 9.71, somewhere around there.

He felt that I could do that if I got a good start. Now, you just said it. I had a horrible start. But I think a lot of that came probably from the false starts from before. Certainly, there were a lot of false starts. I didn’t really want to be one of those guys with a false start.

I was a terrible starter in the first place. So coming out of the blocks in sixth place, I knew that all I had to do was, again, to relax, get back into my running routine, get back into my acceleration phase, knowing that when I hit top speed, I’ll pass everybody. So, again, it was for just for me to be patient. That’s all.

Check out Donovan Bailey Wins Gold in Men’s 100 Metres at Atlanta 1996

Why he believes that the 4 x 100-meter relay victory at the Olympics was one of the greatest Olympic moments

Christian: You talked about confidence. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen at the Olympic Games was actually in 1996, that 4 x 100-meter relay when the number three [Bruny Surin]  gave the stick and he already raised the arms, even though you had 90 meters to go. That was so cool.

Donovan: Well, Christian, I’m very happy that you actually look at that. I think that sometimes people don’t understand how great our team was and how incredible that moment was. It was the very first time in history since 1896, that the US had ever been beaten at the 4 x 100 relay and they were hosting the Olympic Games.

So basically we’re beating them in their house and we were so confident. went in and I told the guys to just get me the stick. So I am very surprised that after Robert, our first leg handed it off, and I think he put his hand up too because essentially we just have to hand the stick off and those guys knew that as soon as they got me the baton it was going to be over.

I think that sometimes people don’t understand how great our team was and how incredible that moment was. It was the very first time in history since 1896, that the US had ever been beaten at the 4 x 100 relay and they were hosting the Olympic Games. So basically we’re beating them in their house and we were so confident.

Wherever I got the baton, I’m going to extend the lead. So that was probably one of the greatest Olympic moments in the history of the Olympics and I’m so happy that you pointed that out. I talked to the fellows often and, again, these are some of those times we get to celebrate when the entire world and incredible time in our lives.

Christian: And as you said, it’s even more special, because you beat the American team in their house, in their discipline.

Donovan: Absolutely. Yes, for sure. It was great time.

Check out the 4x100m Men’s Relay at the 1996 Olympic Games

How to overcome setbacks

Christian: How do you overcome setbacks?

Donovan: You know what? Like I said to you before, I’m a glass half-full kind of guy. So, sometimes here’s the thing. Nobody lives a perfect life.

So at no point is there never going to be setbacks in every single human being’s journey. But ultimately I think that when you come up to a place where there is a valley, you really have to, again, I do a lot of this, maybe Zen-like. I step back and I see what’s in front of me.

Obviously here’s what happens. Every single day, Christian, and this is very important, we all have an incredible goal – everybody. Everyone has incredible goals. So if your plan to get to that goal, doesn’t work, you don’t ever change the goal. All you do, you change the plan.

If your plan to get to that goal, doesn’t work, you don’t ever change the goal. All you do, you change the plan.

And everyone has incredible amounts of resources and networking of whatever goals they might have. But if you` don’t get there with – if you don’t get to that goal with one plan, then it’s always another plan for you to get to that goal. So goals never change, plans do.

His role model

Christian: Who’s your role model and why?

Donovan: Well, my role model is my parents. They let me understand from a very young, what structure was, they let me understand what responsibilities were. They let me understand what discipline was; what hard work was; what focus was.

My parents let me understand from a very young, what structure was, what responsibilities were, what discipline was, what hard work was, what focus was.

So ultimately my dad and mom are always the people that I’ll look at. If I’m going to talk about other global, maybe sportspeople, Mohammad Ali is someone who’s phenomenal. He’s done incredible work within the ring, but even outside of the ring, he stood up for human rights and he also did the right things.

When I ran track, I understood a couple of things. One, my predecessors there might’ve been people that were dirty, taking drugs, and doing all those things. So when I came to track and field, I was never going to be one that was going to be insecure or weak enough to reach out to someone and try and do anything illegal.

So, at the end of the day, ultimately for me, my parents presented me with the probably greatest knowledge and infrastructure to be a successful member of society. I hope to pass that on to as many people as I can from the stage that I sit.

Christian: That is really cool.

The best advice he has received

Christian: What is the best advice you received and who gave it to you?

Donovan: Well, I mean, I could just repeat exactly what I just said in the last question. My parents taught me to be patient, to never, ever settle, and that every single day that I work, I should have expectations.

Never, ever settle, and that every single day that I work, I should have expectations.

A typical training day in the life of a 100-meter sprinter

Christian: Back in the days, how did a typical training day look like?

Donovan: A typical training day could be anything. Maybe we trained too hard, but ultimately, our training day starts with waking up. That’s what I alluded to earlier.

A training day started with you getting a good night’s rest, waking up, getting proper breakfast so you have nutrition in your body, and obviously getting to the track. Again, it’s a Zen moment for me every single day.

A training day started with you getting a good night’s rest.

You get to the track, you prepare yourself, you stretch for an hour, an hour and a half, whatever the workout is that day, whether it’s doing some speed and power, doing some speed, or doing some speed endurance work. You leave from the track, you head to the weight room, you leave the weight room and you head to therapy.

With all of that, you’re eating every couple of hours. And then certainly, after therapy, you can maybe go over film, have a discussion with the coach, get home, rest, relax, read a book, watch a movie, talk to my staff, shower and then go to bed. And it starts all over again the next day.

His motivation to build schools and allow education for children in need

Christian: You alluded to it earlier, you have philanthropic projects. One is your foundation where you build schools. Talk us through what you’re doing.

Donovan: The greatest thing, as I mentioned before, I’m very blessed, and when you’re very blessed – for those who are blessed you should give back. So I’ve always been a massive supporter of leadership, of kids sports, and also education.

I certainly donated to Alzheimer’s because that affected my family and also cancer because that also affected my family, but I’ve always been supportive of kid’s leadership. I believe that every single child in this world deserves an education. I believe that every single child in this world deserves to read and write. I believe that every single child in this world deserves an opportunity to be successful. So, these are things that I always work on.

I believe that every single child in this world deserves an education. I believe that every single child in this world deserves to read and write. I believe that every single child in this world deserves an opportunity to be successful. These are things that I always work on.

I’ll support any other charities or foundations around the globe that support these initiatives. I just think that every single child in this world deserves an opportunity to play because there’s an opportunity to live life, enjoy, smile, read, and write, educate yourself, and be given an opportunity to be successful.

Christian: That’s really cool.

What is going on in the life of Donovan Bailey at this moment in time

Christian: What else is going on in the life of Donovan Bailey at this moment in time?

Donovan: I think I covered it all. I’m a father and a philanthropist. We just discussed that. Certainly, I think that with the pandemic and the Olympics being canceled, we have to pivot and do a lot of things virtual now.

I definitely miss the personal connection with the athletes and the fans, and hopefully, we’ll get back to that as soon as possible. I’m certainly looking forward to the Olympic Games next year. It’s going to be definitely not conventional.

I don’t know what it’s going to look like. I will certainly be in the TV studio with Canadian TV or with BBC or with Euro Sport. I am looking forward to some great performances from the young kids, like Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles, Wayde van Niekerk, Shelly-Ann Fraser, and some of these amazing young athletes that are now carrying the flag.

I’m a fan of sports, so I’m living life. I’m definitely living in the moment. I’m enjoying myself. I, certainly, always want to give shout outs to the frontline workers across the world.

I’m a fan of sports, so I’m living life. I’m definitely living in the moment. I’m enjoying myself. I, certainly, always want to give shout outs to the frontline workers across the world.

These people that are dealing with the pandemic, certainly the medical professionals around the globe that are helping all of these people through these very traumatic and testing times are our true heroes. Let’s hope that we can get through this together and we can all come out on the other side and enjoy some sense of normalcy as soon as possible.

His interview nomination

Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?

Donovan: Have you done Linford?

Christian: No.

Donovan: I am going to nominate Linford Christie.

Christian: That’s really cool.

Where can you find Donovan Bailey

Christian: Where can people find you?

Donovan: You can reach me online. I certainly have a bunch of other social networks, so on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook, you can find me. You know what I look like. I’m still handsome.

Christian: I will link it all up.

Donovan: Sounds awesome, man. Sounds good. Christian

Donovan Bailey’s social profiles

Instagram

Facebook page 

Twitter 

LinkedIn 

Website

Christian: Donovan, thanks so much for your time. That was awesome.

Donovan: Thank you, man. Thanks for having me, take care, and have a great day.