DOHA, Qatar ‑ Blazing!
That’s the best way to describe it after Steven Gardiner ran to a new national record in the men’s 400 meters (m) final inside the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, on Friday night, and with it, became The Bahamas’ second world champion in that event behind Avard Moncur (2001 in Edmonton, Canada), The Bahamas’ first gold medalist at these world championships and the sixth-fastest man of all-time.
With the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders, particularly his home island of Abaco that was ravaged by Hurricane Dorian at the beginning of September, Gardiner ran 43.48 seconds, ending The Bahamas’ participation at the 17th International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) World Championships on a strong note.
The 24-year-old Abaco native said all along that he wanted to go out there and represent that island well, and by extension, represent the entire Bahamas well at these world championships. His victory last night brought joy, healing and a semblance of relief to Bahamians, particularly those who were affected by the deadly hurricane, if only for a moment.
“I spoke to my family before the race and they just told me to go out there and do my best. I’m super excited,” he said afterwards. “I wanted to go out there and bring home a gold, and I was able to do that. I just kept saying in my head, ‘okay Stevie, I got this’. I executed and I brought it home. This is a big accomplishment for me. It just shows that I’m getting better and better as the years goes by.”
Pan Am Games Champion Anthony Zambrano, of Colombia, finished a distant second behind Gardiner, running an area record and national record time of 44.15 seconds for the silver medal. American Fred Kerley was third in 44.17 seconds.
The Caribbean representation was strong as five runners gave the region its largest number of qualifiers for a single men’s 400m final in the history of the event at the world championships. Jamaican Demish Gaye finished fourth in a personal best time of 44.46 seconds, former World and Olympic Champion Kirani James, of Grenada, was fifth in 44.54 seconds, and the other two Caribbean athletes, Machel Cedenio, of Trinidad & Tobago, and Jamaican Akeem Bloomfield were seventh and eighth respectively.
Running from the center of the track in lane four, Gardiner appeared to pace himself properly, and then made his move around the 250m mark. The race was still anyone’s for the taking at that point. Gardiner came into the home stretch with a slight lead and as he moved toward the finish line, he began to pull away. About 50 meters from the finish line, he appeared to be in full gear, increasing his lead with each stride. The Bahamian 200-400m double national record holder crossed the finish line significantly ahead of the rest of the field.
He also now holds the world’s second-fastest time this year, following American Michael Norman’s 43.45 world lead all the way back in April. He is also now the Caribbean’s fastest man ever in the event, replacing James who holds a lifetime best of 43.74 seconds.
Gardiner said the race plan was for him to run around 43.5, but he was still stunned when he crossed the finish line and saw the time. He shaved almost four tenths of a second off his former national record time of 43.87 seconds, and he did it on the same track that he set the former record on during the Diamond League, last year.
For Gardiner, it’s his second medal at the world championships after winning silver in London, England, two years ago, but his first global gold medal and it came a night after his close friend and fellow national record holder Shaunae Miller-Uibo ran a lifetime best in the women’s 400m for second.
Miller-Uibo was expected to win the gold while Gardiner was not. At the end of the day, the reverse proved to be true as Gardiner won and Miller-Uibo settled for second.
Overall, gold and silver at the Doha World Championships is special for The Bahamas.
It’s the eighth world championship in which The Bahamas has won at least two medals, the eighth gold for The Bahamas in world championships history and the 25th medal in total for The Bahamas at the world championships.
One thing is for certain going into an Olympic year. In Gardiner and Miller-Uibo, The Bahamas will go into the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, with two of the finest quarter-miles, in their respective genders, in the world.
“I’m looking forward to the Olympics. I just have to get back at it in January and continue to work hard,” he said. “My coach was saying I was going to run around a 43.5 tonight. I told him I’ll take it. I felt really good out there and I just did what I had to do. I was just trying to finish strong and I did that and brought home the gold.”
The thought now realistically surfaces of whether or not both could challenge world records that once seemed untouchable. Both are the sixth-fastest of all-time in the 400m in their respective genders.
Gardiner is less than a half of a second off of South African Wayde van Niekerk’s world record of 43.03 seconds that he ran at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and with her area and national record of 48.37 seconds on Thursday night, Miller-Uibo is now creeping up to the 47-second range. The women’s world record is 47.60 seconds, set by Marita Koch, of the former German Democratic Republic, in 1985.
The sky is the limit for both.