Those two Saturday nights in Atlanta are forever etched in Canadian lore.
What casual observers may not have understood was that this was only a middle act in the performance that saw Canadian men elevate us to the top status of the sprint relay world.
In 1993, the Canadian 4×100 team grabbed an unexpected bronze medal at the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany on the speed of Robert Esmie, Glenroy Gilbert, Bruny Surin and Atlee Mahorn. It was a bit of redemption for Mahorn and Surin, who had advanced Canada in the semifinals at the ’91 Championships only to be replaced on the final foursome that would finish last. Mahorn, the anchor, had already made a name for himself with a bronze in the 200m at the previous Championships and a 200m gold way back at the ’86 Commonwealth Games. Montreal’s Surin was on the radar screen having won 60m gold at the World Indoor Championships in the spring of that year.
The 1995 World Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden was truly Canada’s moment in the sun. In the 100m final, former Oakville stockbroker won the gold with Surin edging Ato Boldin for the silver. In the 4x100m final the two would bookend the gold medal winning team (with Esmie and Gilbert). That year Surin also won gold over 60m in the world Indoor Championships, and Gilbert took 100m gold at the Pan American Games in Argentina.
1996, of course, saw Bailey set a new Olympic record (9.84s) on his way to the 100m gold. Surin and Gilbert had been disappointingly eliminated in the semis and round 2 heats respectively, but powered Canada to wins in the opening heat and semifinal along with Bailey and Carlton Chambers. In the final, Chambers was replaced on the lead leg by the more experienced Esmie, and the rest is golden history.
The ’97 Championships in Athens saw a similar situation, with Chambers running the leadoff in the first round and then giving way to Esmie, who again joined Gilbert, Surin and Bailey atop the podium. It’s the only time in IAAF world Championships history that the same foursome has won consecutive 4x100m gold medals. Never happened before, hasn’t happen since. Actually, since then no country has repeated in that event, period. Bailey was also able to take home an individual silver in the 100m, making it three straight major international meets at which he won both personal and relay medals. (’97 was also the year that Bailey embarrassed Michael Johnson in their 150m matchup at Skydome.)
The 1999 World Championships team fizzled in the first round, though individually Bruny Surin was able to again win silver (and tie Bailey’s 9.84s national record) in an incredible showdown with the great american Maurice Greene.
Here’s that race from the ’97 World Championships, featuring your defending World and Olympic champs.