An emotional Steven Gardiner said he wanted to cry as he realized the magnitude of the moment during the medal ceremony of the men’s 400 meters (m) inside the Khalifa International Stadium at the 17th International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) World Championships in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday.
He is now the best 400m runner in the world for 2019 and the sixth-fastest of all-time – something that was unimaginable during his younger days when he trained on a grass track in Moore’s Island, Abaco, under the tutelage of Rev. Anthony Williams.
Blessed with a unique combination of height and speed, the talented up-and-coming sprinter developed his craft, blossomed into The Bahamas’ best over 400m and now is a world champion.
In one short year, transitioning from the junior to the senior ranks, he dropped a full three seconds off his personal best time in the men’s 400m and broke the national record that had stood for seven years.
Gardiner became an overnight sensation in the men’s 400m and that carried straight over into the half-lap event.
At 20, he was already an elite performer and after moving to Clermont, Florida to train under American coach Gary Evans, he continued to progress. In 2016, Gardiner made the semifinals at the Olympics in the men’s 400m; in 2017, he ascended all the way to second at the world championships behind world record holder Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa; and two years later, he is the world champion and sixth-fastest ever, winning in a national record time of 43.48 seconds on Friday.
The towering, graceful giant, said he’s just taking it all in stride.
“This is something that I prayed about with my family and I just thank God that it happened. It feels unreal. We have a small country but I’m glad that I get to be a part of history. I’m just grateful,” he said. “I’m a little sore, but I feel decent. A gold medal makes it all worthwhile. I wanted to cry but I just sucked it up. I didn’t want to act like a big baby on television so I just had to go out there and hold it tight.”
Gardiner, who hails from Murphy Town, Abaco, said his thoughts are with the inhabitants of that island that was ravaged by Hurricane Dorian at the beginning of September. When he won in Chorzow, Poland, in September, in what was, at that time, a season’s best performance, he said on social media, “This one was for Abaco.”
A victory in the men’s 400m on Friday here at the world championships was exactly what the island of Abaco and by extension, the entire Bahamas, needed at this time. Gardiner had the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders, and he soared through in flying colors.
“I want to dedicate it to my country especially my home island of Abaco that was devastated by Hurricane Dorian,” he said. “This is a part of history and I’m just happy to be able to accomplish it. Shaunae did what she had to on Thursday, and when I spoke to her in the lobby, she told me to go out there and get it and I wanted to do that.”
Shaunae Miller-Uibo, close friend and fellow national record holder, won silver in the women’s 400m the night before, clocking 48.37 seconds, also recording her as the sixth-fastest of all time.
Gardiner said he and Coach Evans had a plan for his race on Friday and he was able to execute it to perfection.
“I felt good about the strategy,” he said. “I didn’t want to just go out there and blast it and have nothing left for the home stretch. I managed to get out, stayed with the pack, and at the 200m mark, I just decided to push it a bit more. At the 120m mark, I just decided to let it all go.”
Gardiner completed an undefeated season but it certainly doesn’t get any easier for the new world champion. World record holder Van Niekerk is set to make a return to the Olympics next year. American Michael Norman, who is still the world leader, should be back in top form as well. Both are ahead of Gardner on the all-time list. As mentioned, Van Niekerk is the world record holder and defeated Gardiner at the 2017 London World Championships, and Norman clocked a world-leading time of 43.45 seconds this year, tying him as the fourth-fastest ever with fellow American Jeremy Wariner.
“We will all have to meet one day so I just have to go out there and do what I have to do,” said Gardiner. “I feel like I’ve always been the hunted guy, because of what I’ve been able to do on the circuit but I don’t count anyone out. Every lane on the track matters.
“I don’t put any pressure on myself. I know what I do in training and they know what they do. I just have to go out there and prepare and focus on me. Once I go out there and do what I have to do, I feel confident that I will be able to perform well.”
Well said from the man who is still trying to respond to congratulatory messages and the outpouring of love and support on his phone and on social media from his thousands of fans and followers worldwide. He has entered a new stratosphere of world sprinting, and he’s embracing every moment of it.
“Stevie’s performance becomes one of a lifetime,” said Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations’ (BAAA) President Drumeco Archer. “What is particularly significant about his performance is not only is he a new national record holder in that event, but he has been able to demonstrate to the world that he is the dominant factor over that distance. I believe that the world realizes that they have to pay attention to who is now the greatest men’s 400m runner of 2019.”
Gardiner will go into the 2020 Olympics as one of the favorites for the men’s 400m title. The Olympics Games is set for July 24 to August 9, in Tokyo, Japan.
The world awaits.