It has been an eventful week in the neighboring United States of America (USA) as protests citing injustice have broken out in major cities over the death of George Floyd – an African American who died after being forcibly detained by former American police officer Derek Chauvin and three others.
Finding himself among the protesters in downtown Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday, was World Champion Steven Gardiner. The Bahamian world champion said he was out peacefully protesting and showing his support against the “injustices that black people face” in the United States, particularly from “white police officers”.
He posted three pictures on his Instagram account Tuesday afternoon under the title “Unapologetically BLACK! #BlackLivesMatter”.
Gardiner, who lives and trains out of Clermont, Florida – about 20 miles west of Orlando – went out in the city with a couple of his club teammates. He said they were moved to show their support by protesting for what is right.
“I joined the protest because for one – I am a Black individual and I live here also. That can happen to anybody – innocent people. I am an innocent person and my skin color is black and just like how people drive their cars to work and they can be pulled over and killed by a police officer, I have to fear for my life also because I am a Black person living here and I also have to drive and it can happen to not just me but anybody,” Gardiner said.
The national record holder in the men’s 400 meters (m) said that where he lives is normal and that it is business as usual in that residential area – nothing strange.
He said it was the first time that he has ever been involved in a protest, and described it as high-energy.
“Some of my teammates have been to a few [protests] before,” Gardiner said. “This was my first time and I didn’t know what to expect. We all stuck together as a group. We never left each other’s side – it was a peaceful protest. We made our posters and came out as a group for a cause.”
Gardiner held up a poster with Bahamian dialect that read: “Da Blacker Da Berry Da Sweeter Da Juice #BlackLivesMatter”.
The tall and speedy sprinter said he has never experienced any racism while living in Florida and that he is one of the lucky ones. He said he has heard stories but just because he hasn’t experienced it firsthand doesn’t mean that he was not going to show up because it can happen to anybody.
On Sunday, the Bahamas Consulate General for New York put out an urgent notice for Bahamian nationals visiting, and those temporarily and permanently residing in the USA.
The notice stated: “Do not get involved in political or other demonstrations under any circumstances and avoid crowds.”
Gardiner responded: “No, I wasn’t aware of the warning. Like I said, I live here. Most Bahamians are just visiting. I have to stay here, own a home here and therefore I live here. It is not like we are getting into mischief. It was a peaceful protest. We did our posters, marched, said what we had to say and then we left. It was peaceful. We didn’t go into all type of mischief like what some people were doing – not here in Orlando but other places that were on the news.”
As for training, Gardiner said that it is going well for him and he is happy with it and hasn’t lost a step.
“Yesterday (Tuesday) we had a little test run in practice,” Gardiner stated. “It has been a while since training on the track because the track was closed here. We were still running on grass. With the time I ran yesterday, it was like I never left the track. We are at a good pace right now with training.”
This was expected to be a statement year for Gardiner as he was preparing for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. That meet has been postponed to the summer of 2021, still in Tokyo.
There are two meets that Gardiner is looking to compete in before the year is out – one is in Florida and the other is later in the year in Budapest, Hungary.
For the race in Florida, he is planning to run the 200m. In Budapest, at the Gyulai István Memorial Meet, he is expected to compete in the 400m.
Gardiner had a strong year in 2019 with the biggest moment being crowned champion at the 17th International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships in Doha, Qatar, after blazing around the track in 43.48 seconds. He broke his own national record, and became the fastest man ever in the Caribbean and the sixth-fastest of all-time in that event.
He was superb last year, winning nine out of 11 events with a second place finish coming in the men’s 200m at a Star Athletics Sprint Series Meet in Montverde, Florida, and a third place finish in the men’s 200m at the Adidas Boost Boston Games, in Boston, Massachusetts.