TOKYO, Japan ‑ For the second straight Olympics, Steven Gardiner is into the semifinals of the men’s 400 meters (m), and this time, he has Alonzo Russell joining him.
Both Bahamians booked their ticket into the semifinals of that event at the Tokyo Olympic Games at the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan, on Sunday morning.
World Champion Gardiner looked comfortable, winning his opening round heat in 45.05 seconds, and qualified for the semis with the seventh fastest time. Running out of lane two in the fifth of six semifinal heats, Gardiner quickly made up the stagger on the rest of the field, came off the second curve in first place and coasted to the finish line.
“It was hot out there today but I managed to hold it together and then just shut it down bringing it home,” he said. “I feel good. I am in shape. I put down some crazy workouts in training camp and it’s all about putting it together in the race. Let the magic begin!”
Gardiner spent a week training in Athens, Greece, prior to the start of the Olympics, and said he feels that it put him in a space that he needs to be in to pursue an Olympic title here in Tokyo. He’s one of the favorites for the Olympic title.
World record holder Wayde van Niekerk, of South Africa, looks beatable, finishing third in his opening round heat and qualifying for the semis with the 12th fastest time, 45.25 seconds.
U.S. Champion Michael Norman was not overly impressive, finishing second in his opening round heat in 45.35 seconds and qualifying for the semis with the 14th fastest time.
Coming into the Olympics, Van Niekerk, Gardiner and Norman were the event favorites.
Gardiner said he’s looking forward to the semifinals and doing what he needs to do to get into the final. He along with his coach, American Gary Evans, are putting together what they hope will be an effective race strategy.
For Russell, running out lane six in the first heat, he got out well, maintained pace with the field on the back stretch and appeared not to be thrown off stride when former World and Olympic Champion Kirani James, of Grenada, passed him on the second curve.
Russell came home strong, finishing in 45.51 seconds to grab the final non-automatic qualifying spot for the semis. It was a season’s best time for him.
“I felt pretty good. I felt like I went in there and executed the race plan like how I drew it up. A lot of things changed in the past year, and with the Olympics being postponed, that definitely affected me,” said Russell. “I’m just happy that it came together at the right time for me. I’m more excited about this Olympics than the last one just because of what I had to go through to get here and the extra work that I put into it.”
The two-time Olympian said training in this COVID environment was a challenge but one that he embraced and now he’s looking forward to the semis.
Russell graduated from Florida State University (FSU) in 2014 and didn’t have access to the school’s training facilities in this Olympic cycle. He said it was kind of hectic getting around and ensuring that he got the required training that he needed to prepare for the Olympics, but he just made the best out of not having the venues at his disposal and remained committed.
Gardiner said it’s a blessing having two Bahamians in the men’s 400m semifinals at the Olympics.
“To have two people in the semis is good. It’s better than having one man out there. It’s a great accomplishment for The Bahamas. We have a small country, but great athletes,” he said.
The semifinals of the men’s 400m is set for 8:05 p.m. Monday evening in Tokyo, 7:05 a.m. Monday morning in The Bahamas. The final will be held 9 p.m. Thursday night in Tokyo, 8 a.m. Thursday morning in The Bahamas.
Gardiner and Russell need to finish in the top two of their respective heats or have the next two fastest times to move on to the final.