Unlikely Olympian Not Well Known In His Hometown

Jun 25, 2012

One of the surprise winners of a slot on the U.S. Olympic Track and Field team isn’t a household name, even in the town where his track career took off. Now, Ryan Bailey is headed to London to compete in the 100-meter race.

To help me understand Ryan Bailey's time in Salem, longtime high school sports reporter Bill Poehler takes me not to the local track stadium…but here.

Bus announcement: "Route number 17, Market Street."

It's the Salem bus mall. And it's where Poehler says Bailey's troubled teenage years took a turn for the worse.

Bill Poehler: "He was jawing with this other kid, and then he got up and he said 'You know, I'm going to get off this bus.' He got up, he walked off the bus. And he said he felt like it was warm on his shoulder, and he looked back there, and there was blood trickling down. He had just been stabbed."

The injuries were minor. But it was another in a long line of skirmishes that contributed to Bailey's expulsion from McKay High School in Salem. But he worked hard to improve his grades and his behavior, and he was allowed back to McKay for his senior year. Poehler says it all came together during the following spring. That's when Ryan Bailey swept some of the most prestigious races at the district track meet.

Bill Poehler: "You just saw it in him after that. You could see just something about his face, like he knew that he was capable of this, like he was accomplishing what he was capable of."

Bailey now lives in southern California. And while Poehler follows Bailey's career with interest, he's not sure how many people in Salem will be cheering Bailey during the London Olympics.

Bill Poehler: "I honestly don't think most people even realize he exists in this town. Because he's not a football player. He's not a basketball player."

But right on cue, a bystander waiting for a bus interrupts our conversation and says he'll root for Bailey. Bill Rusk is a former Special Olympics track athlete. And he remembers seeing Bailey run in high school track meets.

Bill Rusk: "He worked hard for it. He worked awful hard for it, you know. It's awesome."

But Rusk interjects a dose of reality. He says Ryan Bailey is going to have to work a lot harder if he wants to beat reigning Olympic champion Usain Bolt in London.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network