Donovan Bailey to retire after 2001 season

Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey announced Friday that he'll hang up his spikes after the 2001 outdoor season.

The former world-record holder, world champion and 1996 Olympic champion in the 100 metres said that one way or another, his last competitive race will be in Edmonton this summer.

Bailey will run at the Canadian track and field championships in Edmonton from June 22-24, and if he qualifies for the world championships, which will also be held in Edmonton from Aug. 3-12, he will close out his career at that event.

"I haven't decided yet," Bailey told the Canadian Press from Frankfurt, Germany, on Friday.

"If I'm running well it will certainly be (at the worlds) in Edmonton, but I'm nursing a slight bone spur right now on my right heel.

"I'm definitely going to the Canadian championships, so I don't know if it will be there or the worlds."

Either way, Bailey acknowledged the significance of running his final sprint on Canadian soil.

"I've had some amazing fans over the years," Bailey said. "Sometimes the media hasn't respected me the way they should, but the fans in Canada have been amazing and have been amazing throughout my career, so rightly so, I think it should be the last race I run."

The Oakville, Ont., resident added in a statement: "This sport has given me some great moments and some great life experiences. Overcoming what was deemed impossible is what I will take with me and cherish the most."

Bailey nearly pulled off the impossible last year, coming back from a ruptured Achilles tendon in 1998 that most observers concluded meant the end of his career to run the 100m in under 10 seconds by the mid-point of last season.

Bailey had watched from the sidelines in 1999 when Maurice Greene of the U.S. shattered his old world record of 9.84 seconds and Canadian teammate Bruny Surin tied it, leaving him desiring nothing more than to re-establish himself as a premier sprinter.

He battled nagging injuries through an erratic, but often promising 2000 season, but his quest for a storybook comeback at the Sydney Olympics was quashed when he was felled by a nasty respiratory virus that left him completely depleted of energy.

"That (coming back from injury) will be the number-one thing that stands out because I wasn't even able to walk," Bailey told the Canadian Press. "But having great people around me got me back to the point that I was the number-one-ranked Canadian last year and one of the fastest men in the world, although I had an erratic season."

In the weeks leading up to the Canadian championships, Bailey will compete on the European track circuit, which will feature a number of International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) Grand Prix events. He sees it as sort of a farewell tour.

"My goals are to probably just give back, just be close to the people who were cheering me on when I started, especially here in Germany," Bailey said. "I started here in 1994, and some of these same people are still here with photos of when I started.

"It's kind of relaxing to respond and respect them the way they've responded and respected me."

Mark Block, an official with Flynn Sports Management, which represented Bailey until a few months ago, said the timing of the 33-year-old Bailey's decision is not surprising.

"I think once it was announced that Edmonton was going to host the world championship, that was pretty much his target date for retirement, the end of that season," said Block. "So it's not a shock at all.

"In fact, I think it's a smart decision, and it's good timing. Where else better for anybody to go out than at home? We wish him the best of luck in his last season."

Joanne Mortimore, the chief operation officer for Athletics Canada, led the chorus of praise for Bailey, whose stunning international success was largely responsible for redeeming a Canadian track program that spent much of the late 1980s and early 1990s in despondency and disgrace following the Ben Johnson debacle of the Seoul Olympics and the subsequent revelations of the Dubin Inquiry.

"Donovan has given athletics in Canada a much-needed facelift," said Mortimore. "His spectacular record-setting win in Atlanta, his world championship medals and his medically impossible comeback from the career-ending injury, are only a few of the great Canadian moments Donovan will leave us with."

Bailey cut a very different figure in Canadian sport when he arrived on the scene with such a flourish in the mid-90s. In contrast to the legendary reserve of Canadians, as well as the taciturn, seemingly brooding demeanour of Johnson, Bailey has always been brash, articulate and gregarious.

Born in Manchester, Jamaica, Bailey's charisma quickly vaulted him into the top ranks of Canada's popular athletes, professional or otherwise, even if Canadians could occasionally be put off by his flashiness and apparent recklessness, most notably in his love of fast cars which got him into the odd scrape.

Bailey won the world championship in the 100m at the 1995 world championships in Goteborg, Sweden, where he also anchored the Canadian men's 4X100m relay team to the gold, but that was only a prelude to the 1996 Olympics, the defining moments of his career.

Bailey set his 100m world record in the course of claiming the gold at the Atlanta Games, and a week later, the Canadian relay team stunned the normally invincible Americans - and the Canadians might have broken the world record had Bailey not eased up at the end with the victory well in hand.

A year later, Bailey's 150m showdown at Toronto's SkyDome with 1996 Olympic 200m and 400m champion Michael Johnson, hyped as the contest that would determine the world's fastest man, proved inconclusive when Johnson pulled up with a hamstring injury halfway through the race.

The anticlimactic coda to the event seemed a harbinger of setbacks to come, the most drastic coming in September 1998 when a game of pickup basketball left Bailey on crutches with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

After surgery, intensive rehabilitation and a determined, rigorous training regimen, Bailey defied common sense, which said that he'd be lucky just to walk normally, by working his way back into competitive shape.

Despite his efforts, though, Bailey couldn't keep up with the likes of Greene, Trinidad & Tobago's Ato Boldon, Barbados' Obadele Thompson or Britain's Dwain Chambers. He was reduced to a footnote in the Olympic competition, stopped by illness from advancing past the second round of the 100m and from running in the relay.

"Last year at the Olympics I worked really hard," Bailey said. "I had never in my entire career worked that hard in preparation, but having bronchial pneumonia at the Olympics and not even being able to breathe ... it was pretty tough because it was a pretty big stage, and it was my intention to go there, perform the only way I know how and then walk off the track and be happy with it, and maybe this year come back and run the relay.

"But this year after I got sick, and I got over the bronchial pneumonia in January, I decided that I'm going to train and there were demands for like a farewell-like type tour so that's what I'm doing now."

Bailey, who has never been the shy and retiring type, will shift his focus to life away from the spotlight -- primarily spending time with his girlfriend, Michelle, and daughter, Adrienna.

"For the first little while anyway, I plan to stay home with the family and relax and see my daughter grow up a bit," he said.