On Friday in Doho, Qatar, at the Diamond League meet, Abaco’s Steven Gardiner was brilliant once again, in negotiating one lap around the track. He clocked 44.60 and in the process, collared American former Olympic and World gold medalist LaShawn Merritt at the 300 meters mark and launched a finishing stride that established him beyond any doubt as the leading competitor over the distance in the world, at this point in the season.
Most significant for me was not beating Merritt and putting another 44 seconds run into the books. It was the fact that in a post-race interview he complained about his execution during the race. Put simply, his race strategy was not realized to his expectation. It could have been his early pace, or because he was unable to pull further away from Merritt. He ran 44.60 compared to 44.78 for Merritt. That made for good separation at the finish but our man was not satisfied.
More than anything else, I think this stamps him as a runner headed for astonishing results this season, barring any injury. I think, innocently, he made the comment. Think about it for a moment. He handily beats Merritt and then is critical about his execution. The assessment begs a question.
Just how good can he be?
After lowering his national record to 44.26, last month in Grenada, Gardiner spoke of his interest of breaking the 44 seconds barrier. I don’t doubt he can drop under 44 seconds. I certainly believe that if he was pushed in Grenada, he would have gone under 43 seconds.
The world record stands at 43.03, registered by the electrifying South African Wayde van Nierkerk last year at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. At the start of this season, that milestone did not seem reachable by Gardiner. Now, one has to recognize that he has the potential to be the best. It is amazing, even to be able to think this way. When van Nierkerk exploded in Rio and surged through the tape very close to 42 seconds, I thought the like would not been seen for many years to come.
Now, given how he has looked thus far in the season, Gardiner looms as a greater threat to van Nierkerk that either Merritt or Grenada’s great quarter miler Karani James.
Merritt and James have reached their high points, I think, at 43.65 and 43.74 respectively. Of the lot, it is Gardiner who sits best poised to challenge van Nierkerk’s global mark. It’s a lofty point he is looking up at, but surely within reach. The Bahamas has had just two athletes who achieved world marks, Tommy Robinson over 300 meters and Danny Smith over the 50 meters hurdles.
It is not far-fetched to think that Gardiner could be the nation’s next world record holder in an athletics event.
He looks ready. The only question mark in my mind is his stamina at the big global events. He has to able to go through the rounds and still have enough left for a rugged final. At 21, Gardiner seems to be headed for a breakthrough achievement on an individual basis. That might come at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships this coming August in London.
Best of luck to him!
(To respond to this column, kindly contact Fred Sturrup at email@example.com).