Track icon Bailey likes hockey mentality

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:43 AM ET

EDMONTON - Imagine if Hockey Canada held a pre-Olympic media conference and announced that they’d be more than satisfied with just finishing in the top eight.

The streets in this country would look like Vancouver after a Cup final.

If you’re going to wear a Maple Leaf on your chest, the rules are simple: you either think like a champion or take the thing off.

Unless it’s summer.

Then, you know, top eight is great. Even top 16 is pretty good.

Failing that, hey, nothing wrong with a personal best.

Donvan Bailey always hated that mentality. Never understood it, never wanted to.

He always thought like a hockey player, and dreams of a day when all Canadian athletes, summer and winter, do the same.

“At no point whatsoever did I step into a race and say I’m afraid of this guy, ever,” said the Olympic gold medallist, former world record holder and one of the few Canadian athletes who was ever bigger than our national game.

Even intimidating opponents like American superstar Michael Johnson couldn’t make him blink.

“I wanted to crush him even more,” said Bailey. “That was never a rivalry. Michael Johnson and I raced against each other four times and he’s 0-4 against me. That wasn’t even relevant.”

It’s been a long time since Canadian track-and-field athletes had the kind of swagger and confidence that Bailey and the Canadian relay team had in the glory days. Too long, if you ask Bailey.

“I say this all the time when I’m here — we need to have a hockey attitude in track and field,” said the honorary meet director of the Edmonton International Track Classic, which goes Wednesday evening at Foote Field. “The (track and field) athletes, any time they’re leaving to represent Canada, it should be ‘I don’t want to come back with anything other than gold.’ ”

We’re a long way from that kind of killer instinct right now but Bailey says it’s not for lack of ability.

“There is an abundance of young athletic talent in the country, we have to foster that,” he said. “We have great junior kids, great junior programs. Essentially what we have to do is spend a lot of time building the infrastructure now, so these young kids can graduate to senior and international and professional levels, so they can be relevant when they step on the track.”

In Canada, junior hockey players are exposed to elite-level programs and world-class competition so they’re ready to make the jump to a North American pro league, where they are further groomed and trained in even better surroundings.

In track, the best competition in the world is overseas — far away in both distance and money — and once Canadian athletes are done with the junior and university ranks they’re largely on their own.

“I think these kids are talented enough now,” said Bailey, who believes sprinters Sam Effah and Justyn Warner have the right stuff. “I just spent a month in Europe and I saw guys who are less physically talented on the circuit competing every day.

“We have a lot of great physical specimens with these kids. We have to foster that, it has to be nurtured. We have to give opportunities to the athletes and then put them out there.”

It’s also up to the athletes. After all, it’s not like Bailey and Bruny Surin, or world-class Canadians like Dylan Armstrong and Perdita Felicien, were funded with silver spoons their whole careers.

“The athletes themselves have to start owning up to it,” said Bailey. “You don’t ever want to put yourself in a situation where you’re dependant on anybody, the government, the coach, whatever. You provide yourself with some great people where you’re getting the best that you can but you yourself have to go out there and compete.

“We have people who are doing that. We need to have an entire country doing that.”

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@Sunmedia.ca

TWITTER.com/SUN_TYCHKOWSKI


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