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Unlikely Olympian Not Well Known In His Hometown

SALEM, Ore. – One of the surprise winners of a slot on the US 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.

Oregon native Ryan Bailey will compete in the 100 meters at the Summer Olympics in London. Photo by Tom Banse
Oregon native Ryan Bailey will compete in the 100 meters at the Summer Olympics in London. Photo by Tom Banse

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

"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," Poehler recounts. "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.

"You just saw it in him after that," Poehler says. "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.

"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.

"He worked hard for it," rusk says. "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.

On the Web:

Ryan Bailey profile:

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.