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100 Days That Changed Canada: Donovan Bailey Owns the Podium

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DONOVAN BAILEY

From the creators of 100 Photos That Changed Canada comes their newest work, 100 Days That Changed Canada -- a work that provides concise and compelling histories of turning points in Canadian history.

Charlotte Gray on the Gold Rush. Ken McGoogan on the claiming of the Northwest Passage. Adrienne Clarkson on the death of Norman Bethune. Peter Mansbridge on Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's colour barrier with the Montreal Royals. Lawrence Hill on Halifax's destruction of Africville -- and 95 other days that changed how Canadians live.

Our friends at Harper Collins Canada have shared excerpts with Huffington Post Canada and the Indigo blog, telling the story of four of those 100 days. Today Don Newman explains how Jacques Plante changed the face of hockey.

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Gold Standard

July 27, 1996 -- Donovan Bailey owns the podium in Atlanta.

Brian Williams

The Winter Olympic Games are officially the games of ice and snow. Being a cold-weather country, Canada is certainly competitive in the glamour sports of winter.

It is a somewhat different story in the Summer Games. The centrepiece is the men's 100 metres in athletics. And prior to the Centennial Games, in Atlanta in 1996, Canada had won only one gold medal in the 100 metres.

Nelson Mandela once said, "Politics divides a country, sport unites." There is no question that hockey has long united this country. And our recent success at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games highlights that Canada's new can-do attitude has extended far beyond the rink. Few realize, however, that it was Donovan Bailey -- at the 1996 Games in Atlanta -- who planted the seed of the pride and passion that would change how Canadians felt about themselves and their country.

For Bailey, and for the nation, the Atlanta Games were first and foremost about redemption. Bailey prepared for and competed in Atlanta under the shadow of the Ben Johnson steroid scandal eight years earlier. Even though Donovan Bailey competed clean, he was always under a microscope of suspicion and never truly received the recognition he deserved. The scrutiny extended far beyond Canada, because the men's 100 metres is arguably the most competitive sports title in the world.

In the post-Vancouver 2010 era, we hear so much about a new confidence and pride among our athletes. This is the essence of the Own the Podium program, credited -- and for good reason -- with the amazing performance of the Canadian team in Vancouver. Well, Donovan Bailey was Own the Podium before the program was a twinkle in the eyes of Canadian sports officials. Not only did Bailey possess unique athletic ability, but also, like most sprinters, he was supremely confident. As he famously stated following Atlanta, simply participating was not an option -- he had been determined to win the Games' glamour event. At the time, this attitude was new and not always well received by Canadians. To put it simply, it was un-Canadian.
With his July 27 performance, and the now famous victory photograph as he crossed the finish line on that Saturday night in Atlanta, he had indeed set in motion a change in our country.

The exclamation point on this new attitude came exactly one week later. On a typically warm Saturday night in Georgia, Bailey and his teammates, Bruny Surin, Glenroy Gilbert, Robert Esmie, and alternate
Carlton Chambers, won the gold medal in the 4x100-metres relay -- an event that had been dominated by the United States in the modern Olympics.

For some, Bailey's triumph in the 100 metres rankled. Following his gold-medal performance, some American commentators maintained that the title of the "World's Fastest Man" belonged not to the winner of the 100 metres, as had been the case for one hundred years, but to the winner of the 200-metre race, who just happened to be American Michael Johnson.

This further fuelled Canadian passion and pride, and led to a 150-metre match race between Bailey and Johnson in 1997 at Toronto's SkyDome, which Bailey easily won.

Thanks to our friends at Harper Collins Canada for providing this excerpt.

This post originally appeared on the Indigo Blog.

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