Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Biography & Autobiography Sports


A Champion's Life

by (author) Donovan Bailey

Random House of Canada
Initial publish date
Oct 2023
Sports, Personal Memoirs, Track & Field
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2023
    List Price

Classroom Resources

Where to buy it


A memoir of Olympic glory, the value of mentorship and the courage to champion your own excellence, from the long-reigning world's fastest man, Canadian sprinting legend Donovan Bailey.

From the lush fields of his boyhood in Jamaica, to the basketball courts of Oakville, where he came of age in one of Canada’s most thriving cultural mosaics, to his sprint toward double Olympic gold for Canada in Atlanta in 1996, Donovan Bailey got a long way on natural talent. But he also learned that in the bureaucratic world of Canadian sports, an athlete who didn't come up in the system needed to take charge of his fate if he was going to become the world’s best. As he ascended from outsider to dominant athlete, others didn’t always understand the rigour at work behind Bailey’s confident demeanour. He’d learned from watching Muhammad Ali that a champion needed to act like a champion. But media grew fixated on the sprinter’s immodesty, the likes of which they never saw from Canadian athletes, especially track athletes in the wake of the Ben Johnson doping scandal at Seoul in 1988. Bailey was having none of it, and when he called out Canada's subtle racism and contradicted the prevailing idea most Canadians had of their country, he left in his wake a media uproar and cracked wide open the nation’s moral complacency.
In addition to his unforgettable 100-metre and 4x100 relay gold-medal sprints in Atlanta, Bailey's track career was a litany of records and rare accomplishments, including his audacious 1997 race in Toronto's SkyDome against American 200-metre Olympic champion Michael Johnson to determine who was really the world’s fastest man. There was no disputing the result.
Bailey had been coached in success before he was seriously coached in athletics. Following the lead of his father, a machinist-turned-real estate investor, Bailey became a millionaire by the age of 21, an experience he continues to draw on as an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Frank about his dominance on the track and unapologetic for expecting as much of those around him as he expects of himself, Undisputed is an athlete's story that refuses to settle for second best.

About the author

Contributor Notes

DONOVAN BAILEY is one of the world's most dominant sprinting legends. Track and Field named Bailey Sprinter of the Decade (90s). He is the first man in history to be world champion, Olympic champion and world record holder at the same time. He is a two-time Olympic champion, three-time world champion, and two-time world record holder. He's also the only person to be inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame twice. In 1996 Bailey achieved the fastest top speed recorded to date at 27.07 mph, surpassed only by Usain Bolt. Bailey also broke the indoor 50 metre world record in a time of 5.56 seconds, a record that stands today. Since retirement in 2001, he has worked as a commentator for CBC, CTV and Eurosport. He serves as a board advisor for several companies and is involved with and supports many charitable associations.

Excerpt: Undisputed: A Champion's Life (by (author) Donovan Bailey)


I didn’t plan to say it. I hadn’t thought it through. But in the heat of the moment, after I destroyed a television, I blurted it out:

“When I’m the king here and I run shit, this will never happen!”

That moment changed my life. I had put my business career on hold, and now I was at a crossroads in my track career, too.

Let me explain.

It’s 1993 and I was with the Canadian national team in Stuttgart, Germany, ahead of the World Championships. I was one of the top sprinters in the country at this point and trav­elled to Europe with the intention of competing in the 100- and 200-metre events, along with the men’s 4x100-metre relay. That didn’t happen.

I was at the track with my fellow sprinters—Glenroy Gilbert, Bruny Surin, Atlee Mahorn, among others—winding my body down after practice, a few days before the relay competition, when Mike Murray, a coach with Team Canada, approached me. He delivered his message quickly—that I wasn’t going to be competing in any individual competitions at Stuttgart, and that I should prepare for the relay—then walked away. It felt like a sucker-punch.

Here I was thinking my star had risen in track and field. I was hitting my stride as a sprinter. I could taste success. However, Canadian officials thought otherwise, and I felt in my heart I had been slighted. Only one of the sprinters selected ahead of me had beaten me in head-to-head competition, and my times were rapidly improving. His were not. There was no limit in sight to my abilities in the 100-metre, and I was cutting through the ranks of my own team at a pace no coach or competitor could deny. But they denied it anyway, and I was relegated in Stuttgart to just the relay team.

My mind was racing, but quitting was not an option. I had to double down on my sprinting career and push even harder. The worst thing anybody can say to me is that I can’t do something. And I sure as hell wasn’t going to sit back and allow myself to be moved around someone’s strategy board like a piece of property, which was how the Canadian athletes were too often treated. I’d watched Carl Lewis, the great American track athlete, who always got paid like the star attraction he was. I’d watched the ascendance of Michael Jordan, who could be coached only by the very best in basketball. I’d watched Muhammad Ali. I’d watched Tiger Woods. Many people couldn’t handle a Black athlete who didn’t accept his place. And I was surrounded by too many people who thought they could tell me mine. Too many people who had once told another Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson, his place. You probably know how that turned out. If not, we’ll get to it.

No chance were any of these people going to run my career. When I came across Murray outside our residence in the ath­letes’ village later that afternoon, I saw red.

I reamed him out and said some things I probably shouldn’t repeat. Then I stormed inside. Glenroy Gilbert, my teammate and close friend, was trying to talk me down. He understood my disappointment—us 100-metre guys were typically wound up pretty tight—but there was more going on in my head that I hadn’t yet found the words to express. After venting to him, I reached for the television that was sitting on a nearby table, ripped the plug from the outlet and threw the TV across the room. I stared at the massive hole in the drywall for a moment, and that’s when the words came to me.

“When I’m the king here and I run shit, this will never happen!”

There’s a story told by Tiger Woods, shared during his World Golf Hall of Fame induction speech in 2022, that stands out for me: “Playing at some of these golf courses, I was not allowed in the clubhouses where all the other juniors were. The colour of my skin dictated that. As I got older, that drove me even more. So, as I was denied access into the clubhouses, that’s fine. Put my shoes on here in the parking lot. I asked two questions only, that was it: Where was the first tee, and what was the course record.”

That, to me, is how a champion speaks. Winners either find their way or they make one. For the champion, ceilings are imag­inary. People all decide whether we want to accept or ignore the limitations that ceilings are meant to impose. Champions accept no ceilings. Woods, Lewis, Ali, Jordan—and me.

Back to Stuttgart. Sure, I wasn’t the king of anything yet, or a champion—and I didn’t run shit. I didn’t even run in the relay that week. But my statement was a promise to myself. I was going to find my own path and achieve such a high level of suc­cess that no coach or ruling body would tell me what I could and could not do. Nobody would tell me to know my place and leave the decisions to the officials. Especially these officials, some of them the very people who had been in charge five years earlier, when Canada’s track and field team had embar­rassed the sport and disgraced the country.

I came into track and field from outside their little world. They were used to dealing with athletes from a different socio-economic class. Urban kids who didn’t have clear routes to prosperity, some the children of new Canadians who’d come to the country with very little. Some of the athletes had come to Canada themselves as children, and a contract with Athletics Canada was a chance to elevate themselves and their families from difficult circumstances. That wasn’t me.

Yes, I’d moved to Canada as a kid, but I’d given up a job on Bay Street in my twenties to pursue my athletic career. And I could go back to Canada’s financial centre at a moment’s notice. My dad had taught me many things, like how to make money and be no one’s fool. So unlike the athletes these coaches and administrators were used to pushing around, I knew how things worked in the real world. I knew how to build a business and manage myself like a brand.

I was going to take charge of Donovan Bailey, Inc., and make myself the dominant brand in track and field—the greatest ath­lete my country, maybe the world, had ever seen.

That’s exactly what I did.

I let people run with their narratives of me, too. Say what they want. That’s the way I collect data on people I deal with and decide what I want to do. Since I was a kid, I’ve listened closely and asked a lot of questions. That’s how I learned then, and that’s how I learned things about Canada’s athletic establish­ment that it doesn’t seem to know about itself. I promised myself one day I’d take my story back, tell it in my own way.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done.