The Bahamian sprinter tells Stuart Weir about his 400m victory in Doha and his route to the top
When Steven Gardiner finished first in his 400m semi-final at the 2019 World Athletics Championship in Doha in 44.13, he allowed a thought to enter his mind: “Do you know what? I could win this.” And he did.
The final was anyone’s at the half-way stage but Gardiner ran away from the field in the second half of the race, getting gold in 43.48 – a time which places him sixth on the world all-time list.
“The last 150m in the final was where I made my move,” he remembers. “I try to get a good start and when I’m coming towards the home straight, that’s the time to make my mark and bring it home.”
Speaking immediately after the race, his thoughts were on Bahamas and the September 2019 hurricane which killed around 70 people in his country and caused his family to flee the island and join him in Florida.
“Hurricane Dorian was very devastating for my family and my island and I just wanted to go out there and do my best,” he says.
“It’s so big that Shaunae (Miller-Uibo) and I were able to win two medals for the Bahamas after the hurricane.
“We did it for our country. Thank God, we were able to get two medals. We just wanted to go out there and make our country proud.”
While some athletes struggled with the heat, unfamiliar culture and lack of spectators in Qatar, Gardiner, who had twice won the Diamond League in Doha, felt at home.
“Because I had been to Doha four times, I knew what to expect,” he explains. “Most people had never been and had not competed in that kind of temperature and atmosphere, but for me, having been to Doha before, it was just normal.”
The year 2019 was a stellar one for him, as he was unbeaten in all nine of his 400m races.
He offers no complicated reason as to why he was so dominant.
“I work hard in training and when I get in a race, I just want to do it one more time and have fun,” he says. “Everyone wants to run fast all the time. I just tried to go out, give it my all and hope to come out on top. 2019 was a good season.”
His journey to world champion had seen him first become a semi-finalist in the 2015 World Championships, an achievement he matched at the Rio Olympics, before he secured a silver medal at London 2017.
“My aim in Rio was to make the final. It didn’t happen for me but I didn’t let it get the better of me,” he reflects. “I realised that there was another major championship in a year – the World Championships in London – and I focused on that.
“I learned things from the Olympics so I knew what I had to do in London.
“2017 was the first time I ever made a major final,” he continues. “My aim had been to make the final and I did that and also set a national record. In the final, when I realised I had a chance to get a medal, I just kept going and kept going.”
With regards his improvement from 2015 and 2016, he attributes it partly to “maturity and growth”.
He adds: “I turned professional at 18 and was only 21 at London 2017. I would put a lot of it down to coaching because I changed coaches after the 2016 Olympics and moved to Florida to work with Gary Evans.”
When it comes to training, he says: “At this time of the year we do repeat runs and longer runs. That is always the hardest part of the year but I do it because I know it’s going to help in the long run later in the season.
“During the season the runs tend to be much shorter – 200m, 300m, even 150m. In the gym I would do a weights programme – I love weights, trying to get stronger every year.”
Gardiner describes 2020 as “very weird” and about “finding ways to substitute what we could do for what we would normally be doing”.
He adds: “All the tracks closed and we had to go back to using the grass like we do in the fall. Some days we just did mileage on the bike as a substitute for work on the track.”
When it became clear that he would not be able to go to Europe in the summer, he and his team looked for some events in the US and decided to leave the 400m to 2021.
He ran two 100m races, two 200s and a 300m, in which he broke the Bahamian record with 31.83.
His 10.35 for 100m was a PB. “It’s very rare to see me in the 100m,” he says. “My start is not great.
“I wanted to do a 100m just for training but also, because it was an off year with no championship, I decided to throw out a 100m in there to see where I was at.
“I think my last 100m was in 2015 (10.71) and I wanted to see if I could improve on my time. Like everyone else I was looking forward to the Olympics but then they were postponed.
“I didn’t worry too much because I just thought there would be extra time to prepare.
“I see 2021 as a blank sheet of paper and I want to go out and do again what I did in 2019.”
With Wayde van Niekerk back to defend his Olympic title in an event in which the US is always strong, Gardiner will have his work cut out in Tokyo but he will be ready.
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Tags: Lead photo by Mark Shearman, Steven Gardiner