DOHA, Qatar – With strong Caribbean representation in the men’s 400 meters (m) final inside the Khalifa International Stadium at the 17th International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships in Doha, Qatar, on Friday, track and field enthusiasts from around the region are excited.
A total of five of the eight athletes in that final hail from the Caribbean, led by former World and Olympic Champion Kirani James of Grenada who is making a comeback to the sport after more than a two-year hiatus reportedly due to a respiratory illness.
James has been fantastic in the first two rounds of the men’s 400m, and one gets the feeling that it is just a matter of time before he returns to the 43-second form that he displayed prior to his illness.
However, since his departure, Bahamian Steven Gardiner has blossomed, picking up the mantle as the Caribbean’s fastest man over 400 meters. In time recorded, James is still number one in the region with his lifetime best of 43.74 seconds. He is the 10th fastest quarter-miler of all-time. Gardiner isn’t too far behind with his national record run of 43.87 seconds on this same world championships track in Doha last year.
They will be joined by Jamaicans Demish Gaye and Akeem Bloomfield, and Machel Cedenio, of Trinidad & Tobago, as representatives from the Caribbean in the men’s 400m final tonight in Doha. It’s the most ever for the Caribbean region in the men’s 400m final at the world championships. When you add in U.S. National Champion Fred Kerley, a total of six of the athletes in the final represent the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association (NACAC) region – one of six area associations of the IAAF.
A sweep for the region of the medals is quite possible, and specifically, so is a sweep for the Caribbean.
New NACAC president, Bahamian Mike Sands, himself a former quarter-miler, said that this just goes to show the depth 400m running in the region.
“The NACAC area has long been recognized as one of the strongest, if not the strongest area in the World Athletics family, particularly as it relates to the short and long sprints,” he said. “This claim is confirmed by our athletes’ performances here in Doha where NACAC athletes are indeed dominating the sprints. Our success here verifies our area’s dominance in the sprints, and that is due in large part to coaching and the athletes’ training regimens. This is nothing new for NACAC and it is something that we see only progressing more.”
Additionally, the NACAC region claimed all three medals in the men’s 100m with American Christian Coleman recording a new personal best and going down as the sixth-fastest of all-time, three-time World Champion Justin Gatlin of the United States settling for silver and Canadian Andre De Grasse showing that he is back to form after coming back from an injury, running a personal best time for bronze.
The NACAC region also claimed gold in the women’s 100m with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica; the men’s 200m with Noah Lyles of the United States; and in the women’s 400m with Shaunae Miller-Uibo of The Bahamas.
As for the men’s 400m, James said that a sweep of the medals for the Caribbean is quite possible, provided they go out there and run like they are capable of doing.
“We just have to run our races and do what we’ve been doing all season, but it would be great,” he said.
Gardiner is excited, and likes the thought of three Caribbean medalists in the men’s 400m as long as he is one of them.
“That would be so good – myself being one of them,” he said.
He and James go into the final tonight in Doha with the two fastest qualifying times out of the semis – 44.13 seconds for Gardiner and 44.23 seconds for James. Kerley qualified third in 44.25 seconds.
A sweep of the medals for the Caribbean is quite possible, especially since the elimination of world leader Michael Norman from the United States in the semifinals. He was the favorite coming in, having run a world-leading time of 43.45 seconds in April, making him tied as the fourth fastest quarter-miler of all-time.
Norman appeared to have suffered an injury and was seventh in his semifinal heat in 45.94 seconds, failing to qualify for the final.
The other three Caribbean men and the other athletes in the final could be spoilers.
As it relates to Cedenio, the fourth place finisher from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, he was seen being transported off the track in a wheelchair after the semis and his present condition is unknown. Pan Am Games Champion Anthony Zambrano, of Colombia, who ran a national record time of 44.55 seconds in the semis, to qualify for the final, also had to be helped off the track, and his condition is also unknown. Be that as it may, Gardiner said that he is focused on his lane and what he needs to do.
He will run out of the center of the track in lane four. James will run out of lane seven.
The men’s 400m final is set for 10:20 p.m. tonight here in Doha, 3:20 p.m. in The Bahamas.