"A woman," Bailey says. "I was embarrassed."
He had reason to be. "He came down out of shape, and he also was a nightmare from the biomechanical standpoint," Pfaff says. "One foot splayed out 30 degrees, the other 25. He dragged one leg when he ran, his head was back, he wasn't breathing, and his arms flailed. He was maybe more of a project than I thought."
After three months of sprinting and lifting and improving his diet, Bailey trimmed a third of a second from his time. To the track world, his 10.03 seemed to come out of nowhere. Last year he continued to shave off tenths and hundredths. In April he ran a 9.99 despite "showing off," as Pfaff puts it, over the last 40 meters. In June he clocked a 9.91, just .06 off Leroy Burrell's world record. At the worlds, Bailey's winning time was 9.97, the same as he clocked when he finished third at a Grand Prix meet in May.
Bailey has been tinkering with his start in preparation for Atlanta. Ben Johnson—that man again—once said, "Gun go, the race be over," and Bailey will never explode out of the blocks like that. But he has improved his starts by working with Mark McKoy, the 1992 gold medalist in the 110-meter hurdles. After Bailey whipped him to 40 meters three straight times one afternoon in Austin, McKoy said, "My man's learned to start now."
"No way," Bailey protested. "I used to think, Today, I'm going to have a good start." He pantomimed a starter's gun. "Pow!" Bailey froze. "Go? Oh, that means go?" And he reared his head and laughed at his own frailty.
The moment was human, charming and decidedly self-effacing for a sprinter. They are an odd lot—moody, high-strung, secretive. Bailey is quick-tempered but also remarkably social. His entourage consists only of his coach, his physiotherapist and, occasionally, his agent. Compared to the preening Lewis, the raging Dennis Mitchell and the brooding Christie ("Mr. Stonehenge," Bailey calls him with a smile), Bailey could be the neighbor who car-pools on Tuesdays.
"Donovan was calm before Göteborg, and all those other guys were tense," says Pfaff, "and I think it's because he had a life before sprinting and knows he'll have a life after sprinting. If all hell broke loose and he ended up penniless, he'd still have friends. There aren't many people on the continent who could make that statement."
Donovan Bailey and Michelle Mullin have a daughter, Adrienna, who turns two in August. Bailey was racing in Europe when she was born, when she cut her first tooth, when she took her first steps, when she first said "Da-Da." He says there is more to life than 10-second intervals on the track, so this had better be his time, his Olympics.
They know Bailey a bit better now in Canada than they did when the snow was on the ground. He appears in soft drink commercials, in ads for a cosmetic company. His has slowly become a household face. The bandwagon lurches forward, more slowly than Ben Johnson's, which steamrollered everything, including good sense.
Bailey says he knows exactly how the 100-meter final in Atlanta will go. He says he can name the medalists even now, and he promises to put his prediction in an envelope before opening ceremonies and open it after the race. The race, he says, won't be over after 30 meters because no one accelerates in the middle of a race the way he does. Wait until 70, Bailey says.