|Ryan Bailey at the U.S. Olympic Trials at Hayward Field, the University of Oregon
Eugene, OR - Former McKay High School star Ryan Bailey announced his return to elite competition in a big way on Saturday afternoon at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Running in the same first round heat of the 100 meters as U.S. record holder Tyson Gay, Bailey got off to a good start, clearly beating Gay out of the blocks. Bailey built his advantage through the middle stage of the race, but eased off the pedal at the end, allowing Gay to edge him by .03 seconds at the finish line.
Despite shutting it down before the finish, Bailey's time of 10.03 was tied with Walter Dix for the third-fastest of the day, behind only Justin
Gatlin and Tyson Gay.
That is pretty heady company for the 23-year-old Bailey. Gatlin, Gay and Dix form the top echelon of American sprinters and all have been at the very top of the world's best in the event. Bailey looks like he might be ready to realize his incredible potential and challenge for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
"I felt great, just beyond words," a beaming Bailey said after the race. "I'm finally healthy and able to train 100% every day, so it feels great. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."
The semifinals and finals of the men's 100 will take place on Sunday afternoon. Due partly to being injured earlier in the year, Bailey does not have a qualifying time for the 200, so his only chance to make the Olympic team is in the 100.
One can't help but root for Bailey. He showed tremendous promise in high school, winning the 6A state championship in 2007 and running times that ranked among the best in the country. But Bailey had a difficult time growing up, and always had issues that seemed to hamper his development.
Former McKay High School coach John Parks took Bailey under his wing, and worked hard to provide guidance and support for a young man who badly needed it.
When it came time for college, big-time track programs, including the University of Oregon, were definitely interested, but Bailey's grades forced him to go to Rend Lake College in Illinois instead. While Rend Lake is certainly a well-regarded junior college with a strong track and field program, it isn't Oregon or LSU or Florida.
During his year at Rend Lake, Bailey won the national JC 100 meters championship and was second in the 200. His success there - and his potential as a 6-4 sprinter cut in the Usain Bolt mode - prompted Nike to sign Bailey in 2009, providing financial and other support, as well as some great opportunities for training.
He had a strong year in 2010, running a personal best of 9.88 in a meet in Rieti, Italy, but then suffered through injuries and a difficult year in 2011. Then, after moving to California to train with noted sprint coach John Smith this year, Bailey broke a bone in his foot, and, once again, lost valuable training time to injury.
On Saturday, Bailey smiled when asked if he really was healthy, finally.
"Everything is 100%. I'm feeling good, and ready to roll. This is like my home track."
Parks did a lot for Bailey, no doubt. Now, he is with Smith, who has been one of America's top sprint coaches for many years. The change to Smith allows Bailey the chance to train with top runners like Walter Dix on a daily basis.
"I just trust in my coach," Bailey said. "He's a great coach, he knows his stuff, and I trust him a lot."
Sunday will be a big day for Ryan Bailey. Another chance to realize what so many people see: the next great American sprinter. Perhaps an American version of Usain Bolt - tall, strong, unbelievably gifted.
If he doesn't make the Olympic team, it won't be a tragedy. He is still very young. But you have to be rooting for him.