DOHA, Qatar – It was a bittersweet feeling for The Bahamas’ male quarter-milers yesterday, as one got through to the semifinals of the men’s 400 meters (m) while the other did not.
Shutting it down well before the finish line, and looking around to ensure that he wasn’t passed, Steven Gardiner cruised into the tape in 45.68 seconds, easily winning his first round heat. The result wasn’t so positive for Alonzo Russell as he crossed the finish line in 45.91 seconds for fifth in his heat, and just Gardiner will go through to the semis as the 17th International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships continues here at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar.
Gardiner qualified for the semifinals with the 18th fastest time while Russell finished 26th overall.
Abaco native Gardiner, who is going after his second consecutive medal in the men’s 400m at the world championships, said that the strategy was not to exert too much energy.
“I think I ran a smooth race. I didn’t get to use too much of my kick – saving it for tomorrow,” he said. “It was pretty good for an opening race. When I got to the last 150 and had already caught everybody I just shut it down a bit, used my technique and brought it home,” he added.
Gardiner comes into the championships as the third-fastest quarter-miler this year, running a season’s best time of 44.14 seconds at the 2019 Kamila Skolimowska Memorial at Stadion Śląski in Chorzów, Poland, last month.
He knows duplicating his medal success from the last world championships here in Doha won’t be easy though. Kirani James, of Grenada, the Caribbean’s fastest man ever over that distance, is back after more than a two-year hiatus away from the sport. He appears to be fully recovered from a respiratory illness that kept him sidelined, and proved that yesterday, running 44.94 seconds in his opening round heat. He is the fastest qualifier for the semifinals. Also, Americans Michael Norman and Fred Kerley have both run under 44 seconds this year. Norman is the world leader at 43.45 seconds and Kerley ran 43.64 seconds to win the U.S. National Championships in July.
Gardiner’s national record is 43.87 seconds done in May of last year on this same track in Doha.
“The semis is always a hard round so I’m just going to have to go out here and run it like a final,” said Gardiner. “It’s hot out there and I’m still getting over a cold that I came down with when I got here but I feel pretty good. My breathing is much better so I just have to suck it up and go.”
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. He wants to duplicate his medal success from the London World Championships two years ago, possibly winning a gold this time around.
“It means a lot to me. There is a lot going on back home, but I just want to go out there and perform my best and make everyone proud,” he said.
As for Russell, who hails from Grand Bahama, he said that he didn’t get out of the blocks the way he wanted to, but overall, he’s satisfied with his performance and is looking forward to better results in the future.
“I’m not really disappointed with myself. I went out there and competed and I’m satisfied with that,” he said. “It could have been a bit better. I kind of gauged it bad because I haven’t ran in lane two for a while. I feel like I could have run a bit harder in the first 150 to put myself in the race a bit more. I finished pretty strong but I didn’t put myself in the race in the beginning. The experience was pretty good being here. Just being able to focus on the individual this time and going out there and competing was a good feeling.”
Russell ran out of the same heat with the world leader Michael Norman. Norman won that heat in 45 seconds flat and was the second-fastest qualifier for the semis behind James. Jamaican Demish Gaye, who was also in Russell’s heat, was the third-fastest qualifier for the final, running 45.02 seconds.
Russell just found himself in a fast heat. Had he been in Gardiner’s heat, based on time, he would have been the third automatic qualifier for the semis, from that heat.
He has a lifetime best of 45.25 seconds and a season’s best of 45.28 seconds that he did at the Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations’ (BAAA) Senior National Championships in Freeport, Grand Bahama, in July to qualify for the world championships.
The semifinals are set for today at 8:35 p.m. here in Doha, 1:35 p.m. back in The Bahamas. Gardiner has to be among the top two in his semifinal heat or the next two fastest times to move on to Friday’s final.