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Photos: Andre De Grasse (Finn O’Hara); Donovan Bailey (Courtesy of Donovan Bailey)

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Sprinting Pros Turn to Prose: Andre De Grasse and Donovan Bailey Pen Inspirational Books

Bailey, 55, the fastest man in Canadian history, traces his career in 'Undisputed," while 28-year-old sprinter Andre De Grasse imparts life lessons in "Ignite" / BY Wendy-Ann Clarke / October 13th, 2023

With 20 years between the storied Olympic performances that put track stars Donovan Bailey and Andre De Grasse in the history books, the athletes are publishing two very different memoirs about their paths to glory. It’s no surprise that Canada’s foremost sprinters have kept their book titles as short as their medal-winning runs.

De Grasse’s Inside Track

De Grasse, 28, who is already the most decorated Canadian sprinter in Olympic history, has written Ignite: Unlock the Hidden Potential Within, which is more self-help manual than memoir. The mild-mannered millennial, who seems less inclined to the signature braggadocio of previous generations, shares the ups and downs of his athletic journey, imparting life lessons learned along the way.

De Grasse’s mantra – “speak it into existence” – hits home, as a millennial who ran and coached track myself. “I’ve always carried an inherent belief in purpose and destiny… you must seek that purpose and destiny with your whole heart if you’re going to achieve it,” writes the six-time Olympic medal winner. My Olympic track ambitions died with my tibialis posterior many years ago, but I’m listening. We’re all still chasing our dreams. 


Andre De Gasse


Throughout the book, the “accidental sprinter” (as he titles one of his chapters) opens up about his insecurities, sharing that “nobody was more shocked” about his early success than he was. With faith, good mentorship, a strong support system and putting in the work, he developed into an athlete known for his ability to excel at major competitions.

“Success comes with exceeding expectations, not just meeting them,” he writes. “This is how I approach performing in the biggest moments. … I always try to aim beyond the target – and if I don’t reach it, it’s okay; there is still room for improvement.” 

He shares how he was discovered by coach Tony Sharpe at a high-school track meet in 2012, and details the highs and lows of his journey as he made the decision to dedicate himself to becoming the best sprinter he could be. Reflecting on his experiences for the book was cathartic, he explains in a recent Zoom interview from Toronto. 


Andre De Grasse
Hopes are building that De Grasse, who won the men’s 200m at the Diamond League final in Oregon this summer, will make it to the podium at the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Photo: Ali Gradischer/Getty Images


“It almost felt like you were talking to your therapist in a sense,” he laughs. “You’re trying to let loose and be open to give people a little more insight. … I hope people love it and get to know a little bit more about me, Andre De Grasse, as a person.”

Its Oct. 17 release happens as De Grasse, who overcame a foot injury last year, is adjusting to a new coach, John Coghlan, with hopes building that he will make the 2024 Olympic podium in Paris, even though, for the first time, he left the World Athletics Championships in Budapest this summer without a medal. He continues to progress, with impressive performances on the Diamond League circuit in the past few weeks, where he posted 200-metre times below 20 seconds for the first time in two years.

Bailey’s Life in the Fast Lane

On the other hand, Bailey’s Oct. 31 memoir, Undisputed, is brimming with his trademark bravado, and offers a personal, behind-the-scenes look at the one-time “fastest man in the world,” a moniker he defended in 1997 after a 150-metre showdown with American sprinter Michael Johnson at the Skydome in Toronto. 


Donovan Bailey


Undisputed is a fitting title for the 55-year-old legend, who won two World Championship and two Olympic gold medals, setting a world record in the 100-metre at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta Ga., where led the Canadian men’s 4×100-metre relay team to the top of the podium as the anchor. He describes the process of writing the book and recounting his journey as the “biggest challenge of his career,” he said in our interview. 

Born in Manchester Parish, Jamaica, Bailey writes that he was deeply inspired by American boxing icon and civil rights activist Muhammad Ali, who famously declared himself “the greatest” before he became the heavyweight champion of the world. 

The sprinter emerged on the track scene a few years after the 1988 doping scandal that stripped Ben Johnson of Olympic gold-medal glory, and although he had no personal connection to Johnson, Bailey was automatically viewed with skepticism. The way the Canadian media turned on Johnson after his fall from grace, referring to him as a  “Jamaican-Canadian” rather than a “Canadian hero,” left a bitter taste in Bailey’s mouth. 


Donovan Bailey
“It looks painful because it was,” Bailey says. “Mark Lindsay kept my body in winning condition.” Photo: Courtesy of the Author


“It was hard not to feel the distinct racial undertones, if you were paying attention,” he writes. “Ben was a national hero in 1987, but then he was just a Black man who ran, a Jamaican taking advantage of Canadian resources.” 

Dealing with public cynicism at that time was part and parcel of being in a sport that didn’t have the publicity machines of major leagues like the NBA or MLB to help mitigate negative narratives in the media, he says in a Zoom call from his home in Oakville, Ont. 

“I think that anyone that was competing after 1988 had to accept whatever it was that was coming at us,” he says. “Being the spokesperson, or the number one ambassador of the sport,  I accepted my responsibility in taking all those bullets and creating a new path for the Andres of today.”

With sheer self-determination, and the mentorship of his father and the legendary coach Dan Pfaff, Bailey fought tooth and nail for respect through his performances on the track and commitment to clean sport. Even with the ups and downs of competition, including a disappointing third place in Rome against a stacked 100-metre field in 1994, “I could always rely on my confidence to pick me up,” the sprinter writes.   


Donovan Bailey
Coach Dan Pfaff analyzed every tiny motion of  Bailey’s stride for optimal performance. Photo: Courtesy of the Author

Sharing a Lane

While De Grasse pursues an Olympic gold medal in the 100-metre event and Bailey’s record as the fastest man in Canadian history, Bailey is not threatened by De Grasse’s goal. The older sprinter has not only connected with De Grasse and his mother, Beverley, he has guided them through everything from contract negotiations to brand management. In the 1990s, there was no one in the country who could give Bailey that kind of advice, so he feels a sense of responsibility to be a mentor. 

De Grasse is appreciative of the support. “That’s what I love about Donovan, it’s always about inspiring the next generation,” says De Grasse. “That’s something he’s paid forward to me.”

De Grasse emerged decades after Bailey, during an Olympic sprint-medal drought, and in a more diverse country increasingly accustomed to racially mixed national teams. Taking the proverbial baton from Bailey, De Grasse – a Black man born in Toronto to parents from Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados – was widely received with open arms. “Canada has evolved since the 1990s,” De Grasse says. “You can see that in the fan base in all the sports. Everything is evolving in so many different ways. It makes me so proud to be a Canadian.”  

Bailey and De Grasse have helped raise our collective sense of national pride and confidence that, as Canadians, we don’t have to settle for mediocrity. The sprinters have shown this northern nation, often viewed as the soft, polite younger sibling to the United States, has the talent and ferocity to produce the world’s best. Although I hung up my track spikes in 2014, reading about these two men with similar backgrounds to mine, sharing their journeys to the top, helps me to believe that I, too, can sprint toward greatness on my own track of possibility. 


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