When Donovan Bailey sits in the TV booth high above the Olympic Stadium in Athens, his Grade 1 teacher, Carmen Swaby, won't be uppermost in his mind. But she'll be present nonetheless.
Donovan Bailey was born in Jamaica in 1967 and came to Canada when he was 13. He ran fast when he was a kid, but he didn't start to train seriously until he was out of college.
In 1995 he won the 100-metre World Championship with a time of 9.97 seconds. The following year, in front of millions of viewers, he won Olympic gold in Atlanta. Canadians were thrilled. Bailey still holds the Olympic record for the 100 metres with a time of 9.84 seconds.
This time around, Bailey won't be competing. He'll be a commentator for Eurosport, the most widely received TV channel in Europe.
Bailey grew up in Manchester, Jamaica - a mountainous area on the south coast with a lovely climate. He credits his parents and Carmen Swaby, his Grade 1 teacher at Mount Olivet Primary School, for a solid start in life.
"The principles that I was taught at home by my mother and father were extended to the maximum by Mrs. Swaby. She taught us to be on time, hygiene, that kind of thing," he says. "She gave us simple projects; you had to get it done right by yourself and present it. I can't remember any one project in particular. It was her way of teaching that helped me."
She was inspiring but also stern. "She said if you didn't do it, you'd get a spanking. All the teachers spanked the kids, and the parents allowed it. That's what you did in Jamaica, though maybe they don't do it anymore," he says. Did he get spanked? "Of course it happened to me. I wasn't always the good little boy."
As a child, Donovan developed a sense of boundless potential.
"Mrs. Swaby stressed learning and surrounding yourself with people who are as smart as or smarter than you. She instilled in all the kids that they could do anything. There are no limitations. This is a great thing to carry with you."
A Grade 1 teacher is unlikely to have a direct effect on a child's educational or career choices. But Bailey maintains that Swaby did make a difference. "I've always strived for success. The atmosphere at home, my teachers, my friends and the people I have surrounded myself with have all impacted on my choices. Whatever I chose to be, I was going to be successful. My life has morphed," he says.
Interestingly, he doesn't think that Swaby taught him Phys Ed, but one of her colleagues, Claris Lambert, who is still a senior teacher at Mount Olivet, remembers that Donovan was a good runner, even then.
"He was athletically inclined. He showed his athletic skills from Grade 1," recalls Lambert. "He always came first in races. He was privileged to have the opportunity to excel in Canada. We are proud of him."
After Bailey emigrated to Canada and settled in Oakville with his family, he attended Queen Elizabeth Park School where he met Gary Gregson, a midget-level basketball coach. "He was someone who was father-like, authoritarian almost. He had all the kids comprehending that we had to go to class and that basketball was for fun.
"Height and ball-handling skills are important, but we were a short team. We had big hearts. We were decent athletes who wanted to play basketball and we ended up winning our championship."
Bailey also credits Dan Pfaff, one of the top American sprinting coaches, who prepared him for the 1996 Olympic Games. "I have had amazing coaches and Dan has had the biggest impact lately," says Bailey. "He reinforced the things I was taught at home - and I could sit and have an intellectual discussion with him." Pfaff is now coaching megastars Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery.
A few years ago Bailey, by then an international star, went to visit Swaby on her home turf. "It was great. We hugged. In my case it was different [from other returning students] because little kids look up to me as a role model," he says straight-forwardly. "I've surpassed many. I am recognized in every country I go to."
Donovan Bailey will be providing track coverage for Eurosport at the Olympic Games in Athens. He manages athletes and runs a rehabilitation clinic and training facility in Oakville. In 2004 he started Tranz4m, an exercise and lifestyle program based loosely on his own training.
Carmen Swaby is now retired from teaching.