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1996 Atlanta Olympics: 4 x 100 relay team

The Story


With the words 'blast off' shaved into his hair, Canadian sprinter Robert Esmie revealed both a prophecy and a mission statement before the 4x100-metre relay race. Media attention had been focused on the American team but the Canadians have the last laugh. Esmie along with Donovan Bailey, Bruny Surin and Glenroy Gilbert swiftly run the course, easily leaving their rivals behind.Back at home, Canadians are jubilant. In this CBC Television clip, an ecstatic Jean Chrétien offers his congratulations to the sprinters. The prime minister is calling from a wedding where he has just interrupted the best man's speech to place the telephone call to Atlanta. In the background, revellers cheer loudly. "Canada feels very good at this moment!" the prime minister says happily, "I'm tempted to call an election!" 

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Sports
Broadcast Date: Aug. 3, 1996
Guest(s): Donovan Bailey, Carlton Chambers, Jean Chrétien, Robert Esmie, Glenroy Gilbert, Bruny Surin
Host: Brian Williams
Duration: 4:17

Did You know?


• The Canadian team ran the race in 37.69 seconds; just .29 of a second shy of the world record. Many speculated that the Canadians would have set a world record had Donovan Bailey not slowed his pace by raising his right hand in the air just 15 metres from the finish line. After the race, Bailey said, "I want to apologize to my teammates for that. I think we could have had the world record."

• Esmie had the words 'blast off' shaved into his hair the day of the race. "It was just something to keep the other guys loose," Esmie told the Calgary Herald. "I went to the barber in Atlanta today to get it done. I was telling the other guys I was ready to roll. Man that's what I am: a relay blast-off."

• A total of 83,000 spectators crammed into Centennial Olympic Stadium in Atlanta to watch the event. Journalists would later comment on the absolute silence of the stunned crowd when Donovan Bailey triumphantly crossed the finish line.

• Before the race, the media focused on whether celebrated American sprinter Carl Lewis would run in the relay and claim his 10th Olympic gold medal in four games. He did not run the race and afterward some wondered if Lewis could've beaten Bailey in the final stretch of the race. Bailey indignantly responded, "I would have liked to see anyone there. But Carl's too good a businessman. He's too smart. That would not have been a good investment, for him to go out and embarrass himself."

• The Canadians broke a long winning streak for the Americans. In all of the previous 15 Olympic competitions that the Americans competed in, they successfully claimed the gold medal in the 4x100-metre relay events.

• Glenroy Gilbert also competed in the 1994 Lillehammer Games in the 4-man bobsled competition. He retired from amateur sport in 2001 and had a brief writing career with CBC Radio. He subsequently became a high-level track and field coach.

• Donovan Bailey withdrew from amateur sports in 2001. After competing for 17 years, Bruny Surin retired his spikes in 2002. Robert Esmie continued to train in British Columbia.

• Canada brought home three gold, 11 silver and eight bronze medals from the Atlanta Olympics.


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