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Ryan Bailey makes history by winning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team
By Steve Ritchie / Special to the Statesman Journal
June 24, 2012

Ryan Bailey and son, Tyree, at the U.S. Olympic Trials at Hayward Field, the
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR - Ryan Bailey made history on Sunday, as he raced to a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team by taking third place in the 100 meter final at the Olympic Trials. The former Salem resident finished the race in 9.93 seconds. Claiming the first two places in the race were 2004 Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin and American record holder Tyson Gay, who ran 9.80 and 9.86, respectively.

This wasn't history in the same way that Ashton Eaton's record-setting decathlon performance was. Though 9.93 is an excellent time, it wasn't a record, not even a personal record for Bailey.

This was history-making in a more personal sense. Bailey's accomplishment in making the U.S. team - the "toughest team to make" as it has been called - is something that we can all be inspired by.

The 2007 McKay High School graduate has had to deal with barriers that most of us never have to face. Things like not having a close relationship with his father, moving from town to town due to his step-father being imprisoned, and even being homeless for a time.

There were reports of gang involvement. Suspensions from school. Finances were very tight, and his mom, living on a fixed disability income, could not afford to buy Ryan a new pair of track spikes. Bailey even missed part of a high school track season from wounds suffered when he was attacked with a knife.

Then there were all the injuries. As noted in this column yesterday, every time Bailey seemed to be on the verge of something special in his career, it seemed he would suffer another injury. Even this year, Bailey suffered a fractured bone in his foot, and was unable to train normally for several months.

But on Sunday, in the most pressure-packed setting Bailey has faced yet in his young career, he came through with flying colors. He had a poor start in the semis, but managed to regroup and finish third in his heat, advancing to the finals on time.

Then, in the finals, Bailey got a better start, but he was still behind early in the race. He accelerated well through the middle part of the race. As the strides of the lanky, 6-4 Bailey stretched out, he gained ground. He caught Darvis Patton and pulled even with Michael Rodgers in the final meters.

As they hit the finish line together, it wasn't immediately apparent who got third - and the final Olympic 100 meter berth. Bailey got it by the barest of margins - one one-hundreth of a second - and he started bouncing up and down in jubilation.

Many of those closest to Bailey were here to see it: his mother, Debra Garske; his girlfriend, Lea Hummel; his two-year-old son, Tyree; and his former coach John Parks.

Parks met Bailey when Bailey was a sophomore at McKay High School, and, convinced him to go out for track. Along with others, Parks helped Bailey in countless ways, not only coaching him but becoming a much-needed father figure, as well.

"I'm so excited for him," Parks said after watching Bailey's race. "He's only going to get better from here. It was just his second race of the season and with a little time to race and practice, he is going to be even better."

Parks said he saw Bailey's "gift" soon after he met him, and realized that Bailey had the most raw talent of anyone he had ever worked with or been around. But the past seven years were not a smooth journey for Bailey, or for Parks.

"Ryan stuck with me. He believed in me . . . There were a lot of bumps in the road, a lot of detours. A lot of times he could have gone off the path."

In the press conference following the race, Bailey acknowledged how far he has come in the last seven years.

"I am truly blessed right now . . . When I was younger, it was not the best childhood, but I just realized I was on the wrong road, and needed to turn my life around. My family, my coaches and everyone around me helped me to do that. I'm happy about it. I feel real good. I don't know what to say."

For his mother, Debra Galban, Ryan's success was the realization of something she thought was not just possible, but certain, as far back as his first athletic experiences.

"I knew when I put Ryan in football in kindergarten, and he outran everyone on the field, that he was going to be in the Olympics one day. I just knew it. Everybody I would tell laughed at me."

No one is laughing now. Even those who doubted whether Bailey would ever succeed at the elite level of track never questioned his athletic potential.

Bailey's current coach, John Smith, said that Bailey's future as a sprinter is unlimited.

"I've never seen a human being that big, (who is) that gifted. I can't take credit - I just got him here healthy. He has a God-given talent. Give me a couple years with him, we're going to see something."

We've already seen something pretty good.

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