Saturday, August 3, 1996
He'll huff, he'll puff, he'll try to blow the Yanks away
By JIM O'LEARY --
Executive Producer SLAM! Sports
ATLANTA -- A little puff has Donovan Bailey in a huff, and maybe that's a good omen for Canada's 4 x100 relay team.
Bailey proved a week ago that he can transfer nervous energy from his head to this toes. He arrived in Atlanta looking jumpier than a cat in a dog pound and then went out and purred in the 100-metre final, winning the gold medal in world-record time of 9.84 seconds.
Now here we are, 24 hours away from the relay finals, and Bailey is getting his fur in a knot over some picture that appeared in the Toronto Sun. The photo shows him puffing on an expensive Cuban cigar, which has riled activists who are now making Bailey miserable.
These aren't the anti-Castro activists or members of the Jesse Helms fan club. No, Bailey's in trouble with the tobacco nazis. Canada's anti-smoking lobbyists are apparently convulsing in a non-nicotine fit because Bailey decided to celebrate in private with a Fidel fag instead going out and getting stinking drunk.
Bailey's indescretion was caught on camera and, when the photo was published, the tobacco nazis began to charge that Bailey was a poor role model for Canada's youth. It's a stupid assertion, but now Bailey says he has been inundated with letters and calls, and he worries that his carefully managed image has gone, uh, up in smoke.
From afar, it all seems rather silly. But Bailey is taking it seriously. And when he looked around for someone to blame, his angry eyes fell upon a gaggle of Canadian newsmen who were clustered together Friday night in the bowels of Olympic Stadium.
"What's next?,'' he bellowed. "Are you guys going to be hanging around my front door taking my picture every time I come out? Are you going to be bugging me to find out what color underwear I'm wearing.''
If it ever were to come out that Bailey runs faster in red, there's a good chance he'll be asked about the hue of his Fruit of the Looms. Meantime, all anyone was interested in yesterday was Bailey's assessment of Canada's relay team and his impressions of the powerful U.S. squad.
Perhaps his grumpiness was answer enough. We'd seen this testiness before. Bailey looked uptight in the days leading up to the 100-metre final, and through the early heats, but he settled his nerves when it mattered.
In addition to his huff over the puff, Bailey seemed mildly perturbed that the Canadian team was being all but written off before the race. The concensus is that the Americans will win their 15th Olympic 4x100 relay gold medal unless they drop the baton, run out of their lane or get struck by lightning in the home stretch.
And the Canadians? Here's what American U.S. relay coach Charlie Green thinks of them: "Donovan Bailey is the Olympic champion but how many pure sprinters does Canada have? Not many. That's why we're going to win. This is about America. We have to win this relay.''
Bailey's face twists into a tight smile when the topic turns to the Americans. With Bruny Surin running third, Glenroy Gilbert second and Carlton Chambers leading off, Bailey beleives the Canadian team can give the Yanks a good run. And, if the handoffs are smooth, upset the Americans in their own backyard.
"But to see what the media is saying it seems that we're all running for the silver medal,'' Bailey said. "Everyone keeps saying that Carl Lewis is coming back to get his 10th gold medal. It seems we're not even being mentioned.''
Asked if he's looking forward to a possible head-to-head challenge with Lewis in the anchor leg, Bailey assumed the questioner wanted to know if Bailey believed he could catch Lewis from behind.
"How do you know he's going to be ahead of me?'' Bailey said. "Or how do you even know he's going to be beside me? I'm not going to be even with anybody.''
Bailey reminded people that few of them gave him much chance last week in the 100-metres. He stared down the pressure then to blow away the field. He thinks he can anchor the relay team to a similar upset Saturday night.
"If we stay focussed, we'll kick some ass,'' Bailey said.
What he meant, of course, is that now that he's had his huff and his puff he plans to blow the Americans down.