Donovan Bailey: Home track advantage makes a difference

Canadian sprinting legend Donovan Bailey remembers getting an incredible boost in 1997, for his showdown with Michael Johnson at the Skydome. It was by far the best atmosphere any athlete could ever walk into, he writes.

Canadians must seize opportunity at Toronto Pan Ams to succeed at Olympics

A supportive crowd helped fuel Donovan Bailey, right, in his 1997 match race against Michael Johnson at Toronto's SkyDome.

If you are aspiring to be headed to Rio '16, you should be prepared to win at the Pan Am Games. Realize that you're blessed with the home crowd, and with home facilities like track at York University, the pool and the velodrome. When you have a home crowd, it should give you something extra to be at the top of the podium.

I remember getting an incredible boost in 1997 for my showdown with Michael Johnson at the Skydome. Walking into the stadium for that race was by far the best atmosphere any athlete could ever experience. The place was jam-packed. 

Looking into the stands, our flag was the most prominent image I could see – and that's an amazing thing for an athlete to see. I was confident coming into that race, but getting that extra boost from the home crowd makes you even better.

I had never physically trained as hard for any race as I did for that Skydome race. That's the hardest I ever trained, and my mental preparation was even better. For me, it was a do-or-die situation. It was a relentless thing. I put the blinders on and I was going to win. People have often pointed to my mental focus, maybe more than any other trait I have.

I was used to having a good, decent home crowd from the time I competed in high school in Oakville. Seeing familiar faces was always a good thing for me. I've always told people that the place that you should feel comfortable is down on the track or on your field of play, but you feel even more comfortable when you're at a place that is familiar. And the Skydome was familiar to me. And so I tell young runners, home should be the most comfortable place to be.

I've also always preached determination with runners coming up, and with teammates back in the day. Especially when you are in front of the home crowd. When our team ran at big events in Victoria and Winnipeg, I told the guys we're going to give the crowd what they want – that the Canadian anthem was the only option to be played after we were done competing.

And that's the attitude every Canadian athlete should be bringing to the Pan Ams.