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Donovan Bailey to coach on new CBC reality show

The Canadian sprinting legend chats track and welcomes new role as a coach on Canada's Ultimate Challenge

Donovan Bailey Photo by: Canadian Olympic Committee

The fastest man in Canadian history, Donovan Bailey, is taking his talents to a coaching role on Canada’s Ultimate Challenge, which premieres tonight on CBC Television and CBC Gem.. Bailey is a two-time Olympic champion and three-time world champion, but managing people on the big stage is something he’s used to.

Bailey shared his wealth of coaching and relay experience with Team Red on the new reality show, in which six coaches mentor teams at site-specific physical challenges.

“Managing athletes is absolutely not new to me,” laughs Bailey. “Being the leader for one of the greatest teams in Canadian history (the anchor of Canada’s 4x100m relay team from 1994 to 1997) helped me to be able to deal with different personalities.”

When Bailey was invited to be a captain on the show, he wanted to be clear he was interested in coaching, but not competing. The premise of Canada’s Ultimate Challenge has a lot of similarities to the way Bailey used to help his teammates prepare for the bright lights on the track.

Whatever task Bailey’s Team Red was assigned, it was his responsibility to help guide them.

“From my professional life, I enjoyed the lights and showing up when it mattered,” says Bailey. “The Ultimate Challenge is different–competitors are in their own heads, and it’s useful to understand the nuisances that come with managing all different skill sets.

“I was able to develop an incredible bond with my team, and at the end of the day, no one quit or wanted to give up,” he adds.

Although Bailey has been away from sprinting for more than 20 years, he says he’s envious of the new generation. “Nowadays, athletes get to see content captured from every moment during competition and behind the scenes. In my era, you only got a photo if you won.”

Bailey’s 100m best of 9.84 seconds from the 1996 Olympics still stands as the Canadian record, but he says his long-time coach, Dan Pfaff, believes that, if he’d had the benefit of today’s shoe tech, he could have run 9.4 to 9.5 seconds.

The 55-year-old has been a regular Olympic sprint analyst with CBC Sports since the 2008 summer Games. One of his highlights as an analyst was watching the Canadian men’s 4x100m relay team win gold at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Ore. 

“Knowing how hard it was for us to do in the 90s, I felt like a proud dad watching the boys win,” Bailey says. “It was amazing to see Canadian sprinting come full circle. I had full confidence in this team, with Andre De Grasse as their great leader. He is a competitor, and if you give him the baton, he will never disappoint.”

Canada’s Ultimate Challenges airs on Thursdays at 8 p.m. (starting Feb. 16) on CBC Television and CBC Gem.

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