Her successes led to three trips to the Olympics – Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta in 1996, and Sydney in 2000. When Tonja made the team in 1992, she was just 21 and was the second youngest Olympian from the U.S. to be sent to Spain. Once the Dayton Daily News published an article about Tonja going to Barcelona, it was publicized that her mother wouldn’t be able to afford the trip to Spain. The article spurred Daytonians on to donate funds to pay for the trip, and Tonja’s mother was able to see Tonja compete.
Tonja has led a very successful career; some of her accomplishments are:
- Bronze medal in the 400-meter hurdles at the 1991 Pan American Games
- NCAA title for 400-meter hurdles in 1992
- Big Ten Track & Field Athlete of the Year in 1992 and 1993, for both indoor and outdoor
- Big Ten All-American honors 10 times
- Silver medal in the 400-meter hurdles at 1995 World Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, the Pan American Games, and the Grand Prix Final
- Bronze medal in the 400-meter hurdles at 1996 Olympics in Atlanta
- Gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2001 Grand Prix Final in Melbourne, Australia
- Midwest Region Head Coach of the Year in 2009 and 2013
- National Outdoor Assistant Coach of the Year in 2014
- National Women’s Indoor Assistant Coach of the Year in 2016
- The first woman ever honored as the USATF Nike Coach of the Year in 2016
- Member of the inaugural class of the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017
In her personal life, Tonja married former Philadelphia Eagle and Kansas City Chief Victor Bailey, with whom she has two children. Tonja is now the Men and Women’s Track and Field Sprint and Relay coach at the University of Texas, Austin. In 2012, she also was a U.S. assistant coach at the London Olympics, and a personal coach at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Special thanks to our reader who suggested Tonja Buford-Bailey as a topic to share on Dayton Unknown! (we don’t know your name, sorry!)