A Canadian champion: Angela Bailey

Angela Bailey (middle) competing in the 100-metres event at the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul.

Photograph vy The Canadian Press/Justin Tang

The highlight of my athletic career [was] standing on the Olympic podium and having the silver medal put around my head for Canada,” wrote Angela Bailey in her journal, years after her part in the medal-winning 4×100-metre women’s relay Canadian team at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. Three years later she created another highlight by breaking the 11-second barrier in the women’s 100-metre: running it in 10.98 seconds. About this achievement, Ms. Bailey wrote, “For years, the track world said that only athletes that take drugs could beat [the 11-second barrier]; I proved them wrong. I was so ecstatic that I stayed up all night talking about my 10.9[8] that I went on to to develop bronchitis, which proceeded to ruin my ’87 [running] season.”

Read by her sister Yvonne Bailey, who at times paused, overcome with emotion at the recent passing, Angela’s words in her journal convey not only a sense of pride about her achievements, but also her struggle to win honestly in a sport where performance-enhancing drugs were widespread. She believed in winning fairly, a belief rooted in her faith.

“Throughout her whole career, she was very humble… she was a Christian, she wanted fairness, equality, to be good to one another. I feel [her faith] really grounded her,” explains Yvonne. Her faith and her own struggles for fairness in the sport led her to become a “fierce advocate” against doping. “She felt so strongly about that, she thought she could change the world given what she could accomplish drug-free.”

Ms. Bailey testified at the Dubin Inquiry, a 1989 Canadian government examination of the use of drugs and banned practices intended to increase athletic performance held after the Ben Johnson doping scandal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Her vision for what she hoped she could accomplish drug-free clashed with the reality of what the inquiry uncovered. Testimony by fellow athletes at the inquiry “broke her spirit a little bit, given that she felt so strongly. It was kind of heartbreaking,” Yvonne explains. The testi-mony included the admission by a fellow Canadian sprinter, Angella Taylor- Issajenko, who had “beaten” Angela’s 100-metre record in 1987 and who was Angela’s competitor throughout her career, that she used performance-enhancing drugs. “Issajenko stole from me for 10 years,” Ms. Bailey told Toronto Star sportswriter Randy Starkman at the time. “I do feel cheated. What can I say?”

“Throughout her whole career, she was very humble... she was a Christian, she wanted fairness, equality, to be good to one another.”

Yvonne Bailey

While Ms. Bailey may have been vindicated, unfortunately “people remember [Taylor-Issajenko’s] record; people recall her beating [Angela’s] record, but [I’m] not sure if people remember that that was thrown out,” her sister points out.

The inquiry motivated Ms. Bailey to obtain a law degree from Queen’s Faculty of Law, from which she graduated in 1996. “It drove her to become a lawyer, to stand up for people to fight for their rights.”

Though Angela returned briefly to the sport in 1998, qualifying for the 2000 Olympics, injuries kept her from competing.

Sprinter, lawyer, artist, and community advocate – she and her brother ran Yokefellow Athletics, an organization that helps support young athletes during their time as athletes and beyond, which Yvonne describes as her “passion, her legacy” – Angela Bailey looked back on her life in her journals without regret: “I will miss this sport and what it has given me. I feel there is nothing more I can or should prove. My entire career was developed because of honest hard work, and I will never have any tainted feelings or regrets for my endeavours. My history speaks for itself. From the age of 14 to 28, I ended it as a Canadian champion… perhaps now that things are fair in Canada, others will not have to wait as long as I did to achieve their place in the record books. My purpose is fulfilled…”

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