Sunday, July 28, 1996
Bailey truly a tale of two countries
By JIM O'LEARY --
Executive Producer SLAM! Sports
ATLANTA -- Donovan Bailey has fond childhood memories of Jamaica. He remembers playing in the quiet, open spaces of the countryside, climbing trees abundant with fruit, swimming in cool, clear rivers and living in a home filled with love.
He moved to Oakville, Ont. when he was 14, and passed through high school and college, established himself in business and eventually became an international track star while representing Canada. Bailey is 28, which means his life has been divided exactly in half between the country of his birth and his adopted home.
After his stunning Olympic triumph in the men's 100 metres on Sunday, Bailey ruffled some Canadian feathers when, in response to a question, he told a reporter from one of the Caribbean islands:
"I'm a Jamaican first. That's where I'm from. That's home. I'm a Jamaican-born Canadian sprinter.''
On the morrow of that stirring world-record sprint, when Bailey met with the international media, questions about his national allegiance returned. Was his gold medal victory for Jamaica or for Canada? he was asked. Why are questions of his nationality such an issue?
Which country does he consider to be his home?
Bailey is a straight-talking kind of guy. He's bright and witty and, all and all, really quite likeable. To his credit, he confronts the issue of nationality with candor, probably because he is miffed at why it is an issue at all.
"Everyone knows I'm Jamaican born, but I'm also Canadian,'' he says. "There is no way I'll choose one over the other. All Jamaicans can be proud (of the gold medal) because I'm Jamaican born. All Canadians can be proud because I'm equally Canadian.
"In Jamaica I have lots of family. But I grew up in Canada. All my friends are in Canada. The two places I'll choose to live the rest of my life are Jamaica and Canada. When it gets cold, I'll go to Jamaica; when it gets warm I'll come back up.''
That's really not so complicated. Bailey is a man of two lands. Some people, however, seem to believe that, because O' Canada was played at his medal ceremony and because Bailey waved the maple leaf on his victory lap, he should knock off all this talk about sharing his triumph with Jamaica.
That, of course, is nonsense.
The Olympics Games are a wonderful festival, but they'd be more enjoyable if they had fewer flags. The Olympics are supposed celebrate athleticism, not patriotism. They are supposed to demonstrate altruism, not jingoism. They are supposed to be bring together people of all colors, creeds and nationality in a festival of tolerance.
So who cares if Bailey won for Canada or for Jamaica? What difference does it make?
We should be celebrating his remarkable athletic achievement and applauding the dedication that carried him through thousands of hours of gruelling training to a place in the record books. We should be admiring his remarkable speed and strength. We should be marvelling at his acceleration and remembering that remarkable moment when he burst across the finish line in world-record time.
In short, we should be savoring an amazing athletic performance without peppering our appreciation with petty debates about his passport.
For 9.84 seconds on Saturday night he made us forget all that other stuff. For 9.84 seconds he was just a superb athlete busting down a track at a record pace. As Bailey covered those 100 metres, the seedier side of the Olympics, the nationalism and commercialism, didn't matter. He was a sprinter. The flag waving came when he crossed the finish line.
If Bailey wants to share his greatest athletic achievement with Jamaica, Canadians should be ungrudging. He believes Jamaicans are unfairly portrayed in the Canadian media.
"When there are positive stories about guys raising their families, working hard or just being productive members of society, you never see them,'' he said.
It would be easy for Bailey to distance himself from the negative stereotypes. All he'd have to do is wave a maple leaf and lead a chorus of O' Canada whenever he attends a press conference, then sit back and wait for his invitation to join the Order of Canada.
But Bailey celebrates his Jamaican heritage and uses the platform of celebrity to make heartfelt statements about his often maligned birthplace. His sentiment is noble and it is sincere. And it should be respected.
None of this means he likes Canada any less, or that he is unappreciative or unpatriotic. He is simply a man with two homes. He is also a superb athlete, and that is why he deserves our admiration, regardless of which flag people try to foist upon him.