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COLUMN: Timing makes it hard to tune in to Tokyo Olympics

While this year's Summer Games are hard to follow due to time change, reporter Shawn Gibson recalls 1996 Atlanta Olympics where Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey put Canada firmly on the sporting map
2021-07-28 Olympics rings
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I’m not watching the Olympics this year, mainly because of the times and just being busy, but I also am not too big on them even happening right now.

The COVID-19 case numbers were just too high in Tokyo and the surrounding area at the time it was getting ready to go and it just felt unnecessary.

That said, Go Team Canada!

As a sports fan, you can’t help but follow the stories, whether it's triumph or defeat.

While I’m not really paying too much attention to the Tokyo Summer Olympics (except for Canadian women’s soccer), this time does make me reflect on past Olympics and favourite moments.

In 1996, I was a 19-year-old, rah-rah-everything Canadian and very loud about it.

The Atlanta Summer Games were the perfect storm for a testosterone-filled hoser like me.

Do you remember how many medals Canada ended up with? Likely not, I had to check. We finished with 21 medals with the United States topping everyone with 101 in total.

Do we care? No.

Only one or two are remembered vividly.

The Canadian gold medal in the 4x4 relay race and, of course, the gold in the men’s 100-metre race.

Donovan Bailey's jubilation has become iconic in Canada.

The relay team’s victory was amazing in itself, but Bailey’s win in the 100-metre continues to be one of my favourite moments in sports.

I was a loud and proud Canadian. I could tell you all the great things about this country and how much better than the United States we were, and I often did. Like many who are trying to find their Canadian identity, I fell into the trap of disliking the U.S., in order to further what a proud Canadian I was. 

I was the opposite of what a Canadian was thought to be. Boastful and proud.

It's why I loved Donovan Bailey so much.

He had a swagger as he walked with the Canadian flag draped over him. He spoke loud, direct and with no apologies. He is what Canada needed in the '90s as we furthered ourselves from the identity of the USA.

After Bailey’s 9.84-second run on July 27, 1996, we were the best in the world. Historically, winning the 100-metre race meant you were the fastest person in the world.

A year later, Bailey gave me more reason to love him in the famous race where Bailey took on American Michael Johnson.

Johnson and the Americans tried for a year to say that the U.S. runner was the fastest due to his world record in the 200-metre race at the Atlanta Olympics. It was never a thing before 1996, but the Americans had a really fragile ego at the time.

So, in May 1997, Bailey-versus-Johnson at Toronto's SkyDome in a 150-metre race was set.

Bailey won after Johnson, seeing Bailey was way ahead, pulled up and held his “injured” leg.

Bailey received criticism for his comment following the race.

“He didn't pull up — he's a chicken. He didn't pull up at all — he's just a chicken. He's afraid to lose. I think what he should do is, we should run this race over again, so I can kick his ass one more time.”

Bailey took a lot of heat for the comments. People said it was very unsportsmanlike.

It wasn’t proper.

It was un-Canadian.

I loved it.

Finally, a Canadian who spoke up and said how great we were, how better than our southern counterparts we were.

For that time, from the 1996 Olympics to the year or so later, Canada was faster, better and bolder than the USA.

They hated it and the world loved it.

It was a pivotal moment in Canada’s identity history and I truly feel it allowed many future Canadian athletes to believe it was OK to have a little swagger and loud confidence.

Donovan freakin’ Bailey.

The Tokyo Olympics continues until Sunday, Aug. 8. The men's 100-metre final, which is always a marquee event at the Summer Games, is scheduled for Sunday. 

Shawn Gibson is a staff reporter at BarrieToday.