By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
ABACONIAN Steven Gardiner, dubbed the “boy wonder dream kid” by his new coach George Cleare, moved from the ninth fastest Bahamian to the fourth in a span of just one week as he dropped his personal best time from 44.98 on June 6 to 44.64 yesterday to complete a pair of victories that now has his name sprawling through the international circuit.
While his initial win came at the Star Athletics Sprint Classic in Montverde, Florida, on Saturday where a few other Bahamians participated, Gardiner’s latest feat was recorded at his debut in the ExxonMobil Bislett Games in Oslo, Bislett where he competed alongside high jumper Donald Thomas, who finished at the bottom of the 11-man field with a leap of 2:20 metres, or 7-feet, 2 1/2-inches.
In posting the eighth fastest time so far for the year and the second by a Bahamian behind 36-year-old veteran Chris ‘Fireman’ Brown, who did 44.51 in Eugene, Oregon on May 30, Gardiner ran away from the field in Oslo as his nearest rival Matthew Hudson-Smith from Great Britain could only mustre a time of 45.09, followed by the Czech Republic’s Pavel Maslak in 45.39.
Incidentally, the Oslo meet was the one that 36-year-old Chris ‘Fireman’ Brown, then at the age of 30, lowered his national record to 44.40 for the fastest time by a Bahamian. He has posted nine of the fastest times by a Bahamian. However, only former retired national record holder Avard Moncur, who did 44.45 in Madrid, Spain on July 7, 2001 and Andretti Bain, who did 44.62 in Des Moines on June 14, 2008, have ran faster than Gardiner.
As the youngest of all the Bahamians to dip under the 45-second barrier at 19, Gardiner can enjoy the fact that his achievement comes as he only just began his professional career. And having made the transition all the way from a junior athlete, who has bypassed the collegiate road to glory, Gardiner’s accomplishment came as coach Cleare celebrated his 42nd birthday.
“It was a good birthday present,” said Cleare, who sang the praises of Gardiner, who was unavailable for comment. “At 19, that’s crazy.”
Preparing for his 20th birthday on September 12, the tall slender Gardiner rose to the national spotlight when he posted his personal best time of 20.66 in the 200m and went into international spotlight when he finished third in his semi-final heat of the 200m at the IAAF World Junior Championships last year. But Cleare, who took over the coaching chores from the Rev Anthony Williams of Moore’s Island last year, said the sky is the limit for Gardiner.
“Right now he’s still on a developmental programme and when I say developmental, we’re taking into consideration that this is his first year of training at this level,” Cleare said. “Last year he was training more at a high school level and so we are mindful that we want to meticulously take a closer look at the load we are putting on him and the volume that he’s going through.
“We also have to pay close attention to his weight training and the amount of lifts that he’s doing and the type of lifts that he is doing because he is a very tall athlete and so we want to make sure that there are no muscle imbalances, so there’s a lot of science going on into what he is doing. Right now, the focus is not on how fast he can run, but the focus is getting him through that level of maturity so that he can run as fast as he’s capable of running once his body matures as he gets a little older.”
Based on his workout, Cleare said he was looking for Gardiner to run fast this year and although it was a bit cold in Oslo, he far exceeded the coach’s expectations in the sub-60 degree weather.
“But he’s on pace to doing some good things this year,” Cleare said.
Having gotten a taste of the big league, Cleare said they will get Gardiner back into the United States and into training so that he can come home and put on a show at the Bahamas Association of Athletic Associstions’ National Open Track and Field Championships June 27-28 at the Thomas A Robinson Track and Field Stadium before he gears up for the 16th Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada next month and the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China in August.
Thomas, also looking to come home for the Nationals and ultimately the World Championships, struggled in the men’s high jump with his leap of 2.20m that left him out of the spotlight in what could easily have been a final in any major international meet.
Guowei Zhang from China won with 2.36m (7-8 3/4) with Marco Fassinotti of Italy taking second with 2.33m (7-7 3/4), the same height as Mutaz Barshim from Qatar, American Erik Kynard and Bohdan Bondarenko of the Ukraine.
While Gardiner was making history in Oslo, the Bahamian connection were in action in Eugene, Oregon for the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
On the first day of competition on Wednesday, Shavez Hart and Teray Smith both missed out on the opportunity to advance to the final in the men’s sprints. In the 100m, Hart closed out his tenure at Texas A&M as the senior got 18th overall in the 100m in 10.24 and 10th in the 200m in 20.32. Smith, a sophomore at Auburn University, was 11th in the 200m in 20.34.
Hart, however, is still alive as he ran the second leg of the Aggies’ 4 x 100m relay team that advanced to today’s final with the third best time of 39.11. Smith anchored the Tigers’ team to 16th place in 39.82 as they got eliminated.
On Thursday, Purdue’s sophomore Devynne Charlton qualified for the 100m hurdles on Saturday with the fifth fastest time of 12.87, while University of South Carolina’s junior Tynia Gaither did not start the 100m semi-finals.
Purdue’s 4 x 100 reay team, which was expected to comprise of Charlton and Carmiesha Cox, advanced with the eighth and final spot for Saturday’s final in 44.20. Cox was also expected to run on the Boilermakers’ 4 x 400 relay team that ran the semi-finals last night. The final is also Saturday.