If you ignore the races that Steven Gardiner has failed to finish, the last time he lost a 400m was the final of the 2017 World Championships in London where he finished runner-up to Wayde van Niekerk.
He did drop out of a race in Zurich shortly after those championships and again in Zurich in 2019 and once again in a race at Fort Worth this May when Michael Cherry beat him.
However, the world champion from Doha 2019 was a clear favourite in Tokyo, especially after world record-holder and defending champion Van Niekerk exited in the semis and world leader Randolph Ross didn’t run through the line in his heat.
The early leader in the final was Grenada’s 2012 champion Kirani James in lane four, who was competing a decade after he won the world title as a teenager. After running a top-class 43.88 in his semi-final, he knew he had a chance of his first global medal since Rio, where he was second in Van Niekerk’s record run.
He was through 300m in almost exactly 32 seconds but now alongside him was Gardiner in lane seven, who was running his usual well-measured race and he kicked ahead and moved away to win in a season’s best 43.85, a time he had only previously beaten in his 43.48 in Doha.
He had only been a semi-finalist in Rio in 2016 and now gives the Bahamas an excellent chance of a one-lap double in Tokyo with Shaunae Miller-Uibo favourite for the women’s crown on Friday.
James tightened up badly with 50 metres to go and Anthony Zambrano, who had been second in the World Championships in Doha and ran a PB 43.93 in his semi behind James, powered past to take the silver in 44.08.
It briefly it looked as if James’ early pace was going to stop him getting a medal, but a desperate lean got him there in 44.19 as he just held off Cherry’s late drive on a PB 44.21 run.
It did mean though that he completed his set of medals even if he has been moving in the wrong direction!
Michael Norman was unable to match his 43.45 form of 2019 and he battled home a close fifth in 44.31. Since 1908 [when there was a single British finisher], the USA had only previously failed to win a 400m medal at the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games and London in 2012.
In sixth, former junior star Chris Taylor set a PB 44.79 but Isaac Makwala [44.94] and Liemarvin Bonevacia ran the slowest of their three races in Tokyo.
“At my first Olympics in Rio I didn’t make the final but here in Tokyo I did what needed to be done,” said Gardiner. “I was so excited about making the final and now 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.”
On what he did differently compared to Rio, he explained: “This time, I took it round by round. I didn’t rush to get to the finals. I stayed safe and I won each round and took it step by step.
“My coach and I talked about a new race plan even though tonight it didn’t start as I wanted to. I stumbled out of the blocks but I recovered from it. It is about how you finish and my finishing was amazing, I am just so happy.”
Source: Steve Smythe