Steven Gardiner confirmed his status as the premiere 400m runner as he added Olympic Gold to his World Championship title in 2019.
His time of 43.85 was too good for Anthony Jose Zambrano of Colombia and Grenada’s Kirani James, in that order. And as well as being a season’s best, it confirmed his improvement over the last five years, adding to his bronze from Rio 2016 in the 4x400m relay with individual gold here in Tokyo.
Celebrations were subdued at first, as they tend to be with the 400m - the longest of the distances that might be considered sprints. He would eventually pose cross-legged with the Bahamas flag in front of him. It was his stamina that allowed him to break through.
He admitted his strategy was to attack the first 40m, but could not quite summon the speed required to burst into a lead because he stumbled out of the blocks. However, he knew he could rely on his work in the backstretch and his work out of the final turn which he rates as better than most. “I don’t fall asleep on the bend,” as he put it.
And so, his final 100 was more or less immaculate, taking him through to a therapeutic gold.
"At my first Olympics (Rio 2016) I didn't make the final but I think here in Tokyo I did what needed to be done. I was so excited about making the final and tonight I am the Olympic champion. It is unreal. I don't think I will sleep tonight, it will all sink in at the medal ceremony."
The smoothness of his finish was at odds with his route into these Games. A tumble in the USATF Open in Texas came with 15m before the finish line and, luckily, highlighted a previously undiagnosed ankle injury. It was not as serious as it could have been, and was sorted with an out-patient procedure. However, wondering if it would hold up to an all-out 400, especially given the weight he puts through it as someone of six-foot-three, was always in the back of his mind.
"It has been a rough year for me. I had a procedure on my ankle because I was feeling something. I couldn't go back to practice, I had to start off slowly again on the grass to get back to the track. My teammates push me every day and I just want to thank them. I thank everyone who has been supporting me during everything."
Beyond him, this is also the first Olympic gold in an individual event for the Bahamas, and in turn was dedicated to those who had been affected by Hurricane Dorian in 2019.
The storm officially accounted for 74 deaths in the Bahamas, but the true toll of the disaster is still uncertain with almost 250 people reported missing as of August 2020. It was the costliest disaster in the history of the country, with an estimated $3.4billionUS damage.
"It is still emotional back home,” he said of the recovery, which is still ongoing. My family and my friends on the island are not back to 100% but everybody is still strong and making the best of what happened.
“I just wanted to do this for them and make them proud, I know that this will bring smiles to faces after the devastation. I am happy to bring joy back to the island.
"That is amazing for the country and for myself to be the one to do it,” he said of his Bahamian first. “My country, family, friends and coaches, everybody is so excited right now."
(AFP via Getty Images)
The American Michael Norman moved into a strong lead in the back straight. But with 150m to go, James, the 2012 Olympic champion, took over and guided the rest towards the business end of the race.
James, however, was unable to maintain his position. When Gardiner broke through, he tried to hang onto his coat tails before Zambrano caught him up and dipped ahead of him by 0.11 seconds. Meanwhile, Norman had dropped back to fifth, with fellow American Michael Cherry in fourth.
The placings of Norman and Cherry means that, for the first time in Olympic history, the United States have failed to record a gold medal in the men’s 100m, 200m, 400m, 110m hurdles and 400m hurdles.