Youtube Video: Donovan Bailey 1996 Atlanta

How does attitude help you overcome challenges: Donovan Bailey

Black History month is an opportunity to celebrate African American individuals who have made an impact on the world.  

One such individual is Donovan Bailey, a world-renowned track star.  

He is the first man in history to be world champion, Olympic champion and world record holder all at the same time. He is truly one such individual who represented an entire country and brought an incredible sense of National pride and respect for Canada.

Born to run

Donovan was born on December 16, 1967, in Manchester Jamaica and emigrated to Canada as a teenager.  He moved to Ontario and lived in a city called Oakville.

Donovan focussed most of his attention on playing basketball in high school but still took part in track.  After high school, he went to Sheridan College to study economics during which time he still did some sprinting even winning the 60 m dash at the indoor championships.  

As he was not training professionally, he was unable to compete for either the 1991 National Track team or the 1992 Olympics.

In 1993 Donovan began to train professionally and quickly improved to a point where he became the “fastest man on earth” setting records and winning Olympic gold medals just 3 years later in Atlanta.

Simply put, Donovan was born to run, and could he ever. He progressed through the ranks and gained international stardom in just a few years.

Defying the odds.

Most elite athletes train approximately 20 hours a week for years to become great. Know that, we realize very quickly just how gifted Donovan was.  

Donovan was the exception. Donovan was meant for this.

All the while, he was working work part-time and playing predominantly basketball for fun. Although his main focus not being on sprinting, he still became an incredibly strong runner.

Another point we should appreciate is that Donovan started sprinting when he was older, not even training seriously until he was in his 20’s.  

Many athletes fear that if they don’t start very young they will not have a chance at future success.

Donovan is proof that you can play more than one sport as a teen and still have incredible success as an adult. Donovan defied the odds.

Canadian Stardom

Donovan is one of the best known Canadian summer Olympians, winning two gold medals in the 1996 summer Olympics.

  • He won what is generally regarded as the most prestigious event of the games, attaining a gold medal in the 100m.
  • While competing as an individual, he set a new world record which he held for 12 years before it was broken by Usain Bolt.
  • Donovan still holds the record for the fastest indoor 50m of all time at 5.56 seconds which he set in 1995.  
  • Donovan also won a gold medal and competed in the 4 x 100 competition running with (Robert Esmie, Glenroy Gilbert, Bruny Surin and Carlton Chambers who was an alternate).

These events catapulted Donovan to Canadian stardom and eventually earned him the order of Ontario, a place in Ontario’s sports hall of fame, and Canada’s Sport’s Hall of Fame.  

These honours have cemented Donovan’s place even deeper into Canada’s history of sport.

Tragedy and Hard Work

In September of 1998, tragedy struck Donovan as he was out playing his favourite game of basketball with friends when he ruptured his Achilles tendon.  

The Achilles tendon is the largest and strongest tendon in the body.  This thick band of fibrous tissue which runs up the back of your leg just above your heel allows us to walk, run and jump.  

Understandably, this is one of the worst possible injuries any runner could suffer from. After the injury and subsequent surgery, Donovan understandably struggled to even walk.  

However, through hard work and incredible perseverance, Donovan remarkably enough was able to come back from this catastrophic injury and win a silver medal as a member of the 4 x 100m sprint team in the Pan Am games.  

Donovan did attempt to make the Canadian Olympic team one more time in 2000 but unfortunately had to drop out due to Pneumonia.  

He officially retired in 2001.


Throughout his life, Donovan has faced many challenges from moving to an entirely new country as a teenager to overcoming an incredibly serious injury.

The hard work and challenges likely go much farther than what we read about.  

No mention of how hard mentally or emotionally the Achilles injury would have been, but as we all know from any kind of injury that it certainly takes its toll.

This is Donovan Bailey and for so many reasons, he exemplifies a conquering spirit and is a great example to remember during Black History Month.

Discussion Questions

What are some attitudes that you think Donovan would have needed to develop in order to handle some of the many challenges he faced along the way?

What are some strategies that Donovan would have needed to be successful, and would these strategies have changed at different points?

Did Donovan ever have to show persistence? If so when and how do you think he did that?

The dictionary defines character as having “grit, tenacity, perseverance, and resilience.”

But, really, what that means is having character is about not giving up, and developing your inner ninja to learn and grow as a person.

Screenshot of Character Slideshow - slide 166
Screenshot of Character Slideshow – slide 166

What can we learn about character from Donovan Bailey?

Watch Donovan Bailey winning Gold in Men’s 100 m

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