The Bahamas welcomed home a pair of heroes on National Heroes Day yesterday, as Steven Gardiner and Shaunae Miller-Uibo returned to these shores in a celebration that was staged jointly by the Bahamas Olympic Committee (BOC) and the Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations (BAAA). They were greeted during a reception at Fusion Superplex yesterday afternoon.
Gardiner and Miller-Uibo won gold and silver for The Bahamas at the 17th International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships that wrapped up a little over a week ago in Doha, Qatar. It was the 24th and 25th medals for The Bahamas in the history of the championships, and The Bahamas has won at least one medal in three straight athletics world championships, and 12 of the last 13.
Both Gardiner and Miller-Uibo ran national record times at the world championships, and in the case of Miller-Uibo, this was a new area record as well. They are now both the sixth-fastest in the history of world athletics in their respective events – the men’s and women’s 400 meters (m) races.
Gold medalist Gardiner said he is thrilled to be home, and is looking forward to getting some rest and relaxation. He ran a national record time of 43.48 seconds at the world championships.
“It feels great to be home. We just wanted to go out there, perform to the best of our abilities and put on a show for our country, and for the world to see that The Bahamas is small but we’re mighty. We’re just honored to be back home,” he said. “It feels really good. It’s a golden moment for me, just letting me know that all of the hard work has paid off. I just had to put God first, stay focused and come out on top. It’s just a blessing and an honor. I just wanted to go out there and perform at my best. I put in the hard work just like everyone else and I knew what I was capable of doing. I just focus on myself and do what I have to do.”
Gardiner, who hails from Murphy Town, Abaco, said he will return to that hurricane ravaged island, for the first time since the passing of Hurricane Dorian, at the end of the week. After that, he plans to return to Clermont, Florida, USA, to begin preparing for next season. In total, he said he’ll take about four to six weeks off before starting his preparation for next season.
The new world champion will go into the Tokyo Olympic Games as one of the favorites for the gold medal in the men’s 400m, but expected to be back to challenge him are world record holder Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa who missed the last three seasons, and world leader Michael Norman of the United States who appeared to suffer a minor injury in the semifinals of the men’s 400m in Doha.
“This is the Olympics so we’re definitely looking forward to that and doing well,” said Gardiner. “We just have to put God first, continue to work hard and handle our business. I feel like I’ve always been the hunted because of what I was able to do during the Diamond League and in small circuit meets but I don’t let that phase me. I just go out there and do what I have to do. I can’t mind the noise in the market – just go out there and continue to work hard and do my best.”
Accompanied by her husband Maicel Uibo, a decathlete from Estonia, Shaunae said that it feels good to be back home. She said she’s happy with the season she had and is excited going into an Olympic year. The defending Olympic Champion set new national records in both the women’s 200m and 400m this year. She is looking to run even faster next year.
“This season went really well for me, running PRs (personal best times) and putting down pretty decent times, two national records,” she said. “Next year, I just have to continue to work at it and continue to drop times and give it my best. It was a lil disappointing, not being able to bring home the gold but you win some and you lose some. That’s a part of sports so I just have to shake it off and learn from it. Nothing changes. I just have to go out there and do my best. It’s a lil bit different with the Olympics being held every four years. Everyone is going to be putting in a lot of hard work, but I just have to focus on myself and what I need to do,” she added.
Miller-Uibo said that she just wanted to go out there, perform well and represent The Bahamas as best as she could at the Doha World Championships. She ran a new area record of 48.37 seconds in Doha. It took a blazing time of 48.14 seconds from Salwa Eid Naser, of Bahrain, the third-fastest time in history, to beat Miller-Uibo.
“This one was a big one for us,” said Miller-Uibo. “We went out there, put our country on our back and just did as well as we could. There’s never any intimidation. Going out there and competing against the best in the world is a part of the sport and a part of our job. We just always try to put our best foot forward and give our best performances.”
The couple made history at the world championships, each winning silver on the same night. Husband Maicel accomplished the feat in the men’s decathlon, just falling short of the gold.
“We take Maicel’s medal as a part of our own,” said Miller-Uibo. “It was a great moment, especially with us competing on the same day. It’s been a long and tough season for the both of us. It was an amazing experience for both of us to come home with silver medals.”
Husband Maicel said The Bahamas holds a special place in his heart and that it’s a great feeling knowing that Bahamians are supporting him as well.
“This feels just like home to me – it’s no different,” he said. “Both The Bahamas and Estonia are very close to my heart. The Bahamas is actually closer to me (in distance as he and Shaunae live in Orlando, Florida). I love conch salad and daiquiris and coconut rolls are someplace waiting for me right now. It’s pretty much the same every year – just trying to stay healthy and going out there and doing our best.”
BAAA President Drumeco Archer welcomed the world championships medalists home and recognized the other members of the nine-member team as well.
“Today is National Heroes Day, and for us, we could say that today is ‘National Super Heroes Day’ because truly we have super heroes in our mix. It has been a very long season for track and field but this is the beginning of a new track and field mission that involves not only the federation (BAAA) but also the BOC and I now turn the baton over to the BOC as we move into an Olympic season,” he said. The Olympics are set for July 24 to August 8, in Tokyo, Japan, next year.
“This is a very exciting time for many of us, and all I could say is that track and field will forever be in the minds and in the culture of Bahamian sports,” said Archer. “It’s a long journey for us and we are looking forward to 2020. I am here to say thank you for your support. We want you to continue to carry the banner of track and field high and continue to be proud of your country and all that we do to promote The Bahamas.”
As far as the relays are concerned, and getting The Bahamas qualified to compete in that aspect of track and field at the global level, Archer said that it is a work in progress and something that they will tackle aggressively going into an Olympic year. He wants to ensure that what happened at the world championships is not repeated in Tokyo. For the first time in 26 years, The Bahamas failed to field at least one relay team at a global outdoor championships – the world championships or the Olympics.
“We are in the process of building a strong mentorship program as it relates to the relays – more specifically looking at the junior program,” said Archer. “We believe that we have the talent pool both on the men’s and women’s side and it’s just a matter of planning and a matter of allocating the resources to bring the teams together to prepare and qualify for Tokyo. It’s an effort that we will continue to actively be involved with. The BOC is going to be leading that charge in preparation for Tokyo, and the federation will be there hand-in-hand to make sure we qualify teams.”
Archer said they are not concerned about funding at this point. He said he believes that will work itself out, and at the end of the day, The Bahamas will have full representation at the Games of the 32nd Olympiad next summer in Tokyo, Japan.