Margaret Johnson Bailes

Athlete

Class of 1969

Margaret Johnson Bailes

Like a comet flashing through the sky, Margaret Johnson Bailes’ track career burned ever so bright, even if briefly at the highest level. Discovered in Eugene, Ore. at age 9, she started sizzling on the straightaways and ovals – first as a youth against boys, then as a prep starting in 7th-grade as Oregon embraced girls’ track and field before the days of Title IX. Johnson Bailes’ final race was on the biggest stage at the Mexico City Olympics before her senior year at Eugene’s Churchill High – winning 4x100 Team USA gold despite a bout of pneumonia. She has no regrets about that… or walking away from the sport afterward, newly married and soon to be a young mother.

Young Margaret Johnson was a running in a meet at storied Hayward Field in 1960 when she was “discovered” during by Wendy Jerome, the wife of Canadian Olympic medalist Harry Jerome – who invited Johnson to join her track club. She quickly became a terrific success and by her 7th-grade year in ’64 was already the fastest schoolgirl in the country at 220y (24.0). As a freshman at Churchill in ’66, she broke the HSR for 220 at 23.8 and also ran 10.7 for 100y. Then in ’67, she improved her 100y to 10.4 and ran 23.8 again for 220.

With the Mexico City Olympics looming in ’68, Bailes Johnson (now married to Eddie Bailes) again dominated the prep scene, then set her sights on making the team. She stunned defending champion Wyomia Tyus in the AAU national 100m, twice tying the world record (11.1). Then in the Trials she was 2nd in the 100, then won the 200. She would hit auto times of 11.29 and 22.95, still the fastest ever by an Oregon prep.

The aforementioned pneumonia kept Johnson Bailes from reaching her potential in the individual Olympic 100 and 200, but she ran the 2nd leg in the gold medal-winning and world record-breaking 4x100 for Team USA. She could have become even better as a senior, but when her husband got a job in California, she moved there and finished her education – but retired from track. The only Eugene-raised Olympic medalist, she later returned to her hometown and in 2009 the track at the Arts and Technology Academy there was named in her honor.

Did You Know?

During Margaret Johnson Bailes’ memorable first race as a youth at Hayward, she competed in a dress and street shoes.