I was just wondering whatever happened to Donovan Bailey, and then there he was — all over my Internet.
As a guy who tries to keep his toe wet in the world of literature I have come to enjoy Canada Reads, CBC’s odd combination of high-brow book culture and low-brow reality show banter.
The multimedia show — it can be listened to on the radio or watched on your computer — works like this:
Jian Ghomeshi hosts five different Canadian celebrities, each of whom defends a book in ongoing debates with the other four celebrities. After each episode, one book is voted of the island — whittling the competition down to a champion.
In 2011 Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis won, and both my parents really liked it. In 2012 Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre won, and I gave it to my mom for Christmas. She loved that book, too. Canada Reads, it seems, has the force of parental credibility behind it.
In 2014, the show’s guest celebrities will be anti-poverty activist Stephen Lewis, journalist Wab Kinew, comedian Samantha Bee, actress Sarah Gadon, and, of course, former world record holder Donavon Bailey.
Before Canada Reads, Bailey became a hero of mine in Carmack’s dusty gas station parking lot in July 1996.
My dad and I had been camping in the Tombstones and were driving back to Whitehorse to watch the men’s 100m final in the Atlanta Olympics. When it became clear we were not going to make it, we pulled over in Carmacks.
CBC radio interrupted regularly scheduled programming to bring us the race and I listened to, rather than watched, Donovan Bailey win the gold medal.
The following week he won another gold in the 4x100m relay.
After enjoying a few years as a Canadian prince, he was overtaken by injuries and younger runners. He disappeared from my cultural ether.
That is, until I saw him on the Internet sitting at Ghomeshi’s table, hawking Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan.
Though the Canada Reads debates will not air until March, each of the five contestants were given 30 seconds to introduce their chosen books on November 27. Bailey was evidently the least prepared.
After brashly declaring he was going to win, he sputtered out of the gates with a stream-of-consciousness introduction that drew more dots than it connected. He continued to mention his poor performance throughout the show and before broadcast’s end, his lack of preparation was a running joke amongst the other panelists.
But Donovan, it really wasn’t that bad.
You didn’t get caught mid-sentence when your time was up, and if you hadn’t confessed to your own ill preparedness, I doubt anyone would have mentioned it. Are you trying to sabotage yourself?
Or, after years of racing in the shadow of American dominance and Ben Johnson’s disgrace, do you prefer the role of the underdog? Did you deliberately start slowly, so you could power past the competition in the home stretch, much like you powered past Frankie Fredericks and Ato Boldon in 1996?
Whatever the case, if that 15-year-old kid in Carmacks was still around, I’m sure he’d be rooting for you.
In fact, in honour of both you and my teenage self, when Canada Reads hits the nation in the spring I will forsake the Internet and listen to you on the radio instead.
How about a little magic, for old time’s sake?
Peter Jickling is a Whitehorse playwright and the assistant editor of What’s Up Yukon