It has been five years since Jamaica's 2004 Olympic sprint relay gold medallist Aleen Bailey retired from athletics, and the wonderful memories still linger. With the Tokyo Olympics just around the corner, it's a moment of reflection for her with mixed emotions.
“It's a bit of both. I am a little sad that I am not competing but I enjoy watching it because I get to see the younger athletes that I have known since they were like babies,” Bailey told the Observer.
“I am excited to watch because you watch the races throughout the year and you see where we are and like the women's 100 this year look amazing. The women's 200 and the 400m hurdles, so everything looks great so I am excited,” she reiterated.
After competing at two Olympic Games in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, persistent injuries forced Bailey into retirement in 2017 at the age of 37. She turns 41 on November 25.
But she has stayed close to the sport she loves and is currently a coach at Cane Bay High School in South Carolina along with being a library assistant.
Bailey never saw herself coaching, but fate had set a path for her.
“No, I didn't see myself coaching while I was competing, because I was volunteering coaching college kids and their work ethics were not up to par and I was like, 'I don't have the patience with people who won't listen and do the things correctly,' and then when they don't do well they blame the coach and I didn't want to be in that situation. But you get placed where you're supposed to be and I am enjoying it,” said Bailey.
“Coaching has been going good and I am enjoying it. The kids that I have are eager to learn and I love that,” said the former Vere Technical High School star.
“Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. Kids here and Jamaica are way different when it comes to work ethics. But there are a few that make me love what I do because they put in the work and it brings joy when they hit their goals and run a PR,” she added.
Bailey, who is the sister of dancehall icon Capleton, had a stellar high school and national junior career, winning a number of regional titles, including triple gold at the Under-17 Central America and the Caribbean (CAC) Games, capturing the 100m, 200m and 4x100m.
Throughout her junior career she garnered over 20 medals, including 14 gold at the Carifta, CAC, and World Junior Championships.
She transitioned into a wonderful senior athlete and helped to bring Jamaica to the fore, winning a number of relay gold medals. Her best individual performance was finishing second at the World Athletics Final in 2004 in the 100m and bronze in the 200m
With a best time of 11.04 and 22.33, Bailey had an outstanding collegiate career for the University of South Carolina where she captured the NCAA sprint double, winning gold in the 100m and 200m.
In 2004, Jamaica won its first ever women's 4x100 relay gold at the Olympics. Bailey was part of that historic moment, running the third leg of the quartet comprising Tayna Lawrence, Sherone Simpson and Veronica Campbell, striking gold in 41.67.
“My greatest moment would be the 2004 Olympics. We won the first relay gold medal for Jamaica. The unity that the team had and the love for each other. The fact that Merlene Ottey was there, the fact that I got to compete with her at an Olympic Games, so it was just an amazing experience, something I will remember for a very long time,” Bailey pointed out.
Bailey also won 4x100 gold at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, following silver in 2005 and bronze in 1999.
She was a part of Jamaica's relay pool at the 2008 Olympics, running in the heats along with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Sheri-Ann Brooks and Veronica Campbell-Brown and won in 42.24 which was the fastest time into the final. She and Brooks were replaced by tied silver medallists Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart. But Jamaica did not finish the race due to poor baton exchanges.