In the only Olympic race he ever ran, Robert Esmie became an Olympic champion. He was the lead off runner of the gold medal winning Canadian 4x100m relay team at Atlanta 1996 with Glenroy Gilbert, Bruny Surin and 100m Olympic champion Donovan Bailey. Replacing an injured Carlton Chambers who ran in the first two rounds, Esmie showed up to the Olympic relay final with the words “Relay Blast Off” shaved into his head in an attempt to relax his team mates and shut down the partisan crowd, while wearing a t-shirt that said “Relax. You’ve been erased” in hopes that he would get the mental advantage over American lead off runner Jon Drummond – which he did when he caught him reading his t-shirt.
Despite being in a minor traffic accident enroute to the stadium and the relay final being delayed by a disqualification, Esmie ran the race of his life. He had a considerable lead in the first 60 metres with a perfect baton exchange with Gilbert, who had a great leg of his own. After anchorman Bailey crossed the finish line, Esmie fetched Chambers from the stadium so the whole team could celebrate together. He grabbed the baton which Bailey had thrown to the ground in celebration. Since the event was introduced to the Olympic programme in 1912, no one had ever beaten the United States to the finish line in an Olympic final they had actually started.
Esmie was a consistent member of the Canadian 4x100m relay program that dominated the 1990s. He won golds at the 1994 Commonwealth Games, 1995 and 1997 World Championships, and bronze at the 1993 World Championships. Individually, Esmie won the 60m bronze medal at the 1995 World Indoor Championships and made the 100m semi-final at the 1993 World Championships.
Born in Jamaica, Esmie moved to Sudbury, Ontario at age 11 attending Lasalle Secondary School. By Grade 10, he signed with Nike, as one of the youngest athletes ever. His mother Mavis wanted him to become a medical doctor, which he said he would do if his Olympic dreams didn’t come true. After spending 22 years in Vancouver, British Columbia, Esmie returned to his hometown of Sudbury with his wife and children to look after his ailing mother. Esmie remained involved in sport and high-performance track and speed training to help athletes from all disciplines reach their fitness goals.
As a member of the men’s relay team, Esmie was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004 and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.