DOHA, Qatar – Bahamian Steven Gardiner glided to the fastest qualifying time for 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, yesterday, running a season’s best time of 44.13 seconds in the semis.
Right on his tail in that semifinal heat was former World and Olympic Champion Kirani James, of Grenada, showing tremendous resiliency in his ongoing comeback from a respiratory illness that sidelined him for more than two years. Prior to these world championships, he ran just once this year.
James was second behind Gardiner yesterday in a season’s best time of 44.23 seconds, and the two Caribbean men will go into the final on Friday with the two fastest qualifying times. In the final, Gardiner will run out of the center of the track in lane four. James will run out of lane seven.
“We’re both experienced so it was just a matter of taking our time and running our race,” said Gardiner yesterday. “Nobody panicked out there and we came to the line together. It should be exciting in the final.”
Gardiner and James stole the show but the biggest news coming out of the semis was the elimination of world leader Michael Norman from the United States. He was one of the two favorites 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.
In total, five young men will represent the Caribbean in the final, giving the region its largest representation ever in a world championships 400m final. When you add in U.S. National Champion Fred Kerley, who won his semifinal heat in 44.25 seconds and qualified for the final with the third-fastest time, a total of six of the athletes in the final represent the North, American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association (NACAC) region. NACAC is just one of six area associations of the IAAF.
“We’ll see what happens,” said James. “I wish him (Norman) the best. He (Norman) probably has the brightest future out of all of us.”
Regarding the possibility of having three men from the Caribbean on the medal podium, James said: “We just have to go out there, compete and not get too excited. We just have to run our races and do what we’ve been doing all season, but it would be great.”
When asked that same question, Gardiner said: “That would be so good – myself being one of them. I just feel like it’s time to go get another medal.”
In addition to Gardiner and James, the other Caribbean athletes in the final are Demish Gaye and Akeem Bloomfield of Jamaica, and Machel Cedenio, of Trinidad & Tobago, who won his semifinal heat in a season’s best time of 44.41 seconds, but had to be transported off the track in a wheelchair afterward.
Be that as it may, Gardiner said that he is just focused on his lane. With Gaye ahead of him and James behind him, in his heat, Gardiner paced himself properly in the first 200 meters of the race and appeared to make his move on the back curve. James went with him, and the duo came off the bend clearly ahead of everyone else and just a couple strides from each other. James followed Gardiner to the tape as both easily qualified.
“My coach and I have been working on my drive phase for a few weeks now and it’s coming together. It’s getting better,” said Gardiner. “I just want to go out there and be on the podium. This is my third world championships and I just want to go out there and add another medal to my collection. I’m ready to go.”
Gardiner came into the world championships with a season’s best time of 44.14 seconds that he did at the 2019 Kamila Skolimowska Memorial at Stadion Śląski in Chorzów, Poland, last month. He trailed the two world championships favorites Norman and Kerley on the world’s top list for 2019.
Kerley had a season’s and personal best time of 43.64 seconds that he did to win the U.S. National Championships in July, shocking Norman.
Coming into the championships, James ran just once this year, circling the track in 44.47 seconds in Andújar, Spain, last month. He has a personal best time of 43.74 seconds, making him the Caribbean’s fastest man ever and the 10th fastest quarter-miler worldwide of all-time.
Gardiner has a personal best national record time of 43.87 seconds, set on this same track in Doha, Qatar, during the IAAF Diamond League, last year.
They are now the three favorites for the gold medal in the final. As mentioned, Gardiner will run out of lane four in the final. James will be in lane seven, and Kerley will run out of lane five. The race is expected to be between those three, but the two Jamaicans are formidable as well, and so is Cedenio. It remains to be seen what condition Cedenio is in after being carted off in a wheelchair following his race.
Kenyan Emmanuel Kipkurui Korir, who ran a season’s best time of 44.37 seconds in the semis, and Pan Am Games Champion Anthony Zambrano, of Colombia, who ran a national record time of 44.55 seconds in the semis, complete the field.
Abaco native Gardiner is going after his second consecutive medal in the men’s 400m at the world championships, having won the silver medal at the last world championships in London, England, in 2017, behind world record holder Wayde van Niekierk, of South Africa. The South African has sat out the past three years with a knee injury.
With that, it could be Gardiner’s time.
Being from Murphy Town, Abaco, Gardiner said it means a lot to him to go out there and give a good showing at these world championships given what that island and Grand Bahama went through in the passing of Hurricane Dorian in September.
The men’s 400m final is set for Friday at 10:20 p.m. here in Doha, 3:20 p.m. in The Bahamas.