DOHA (Reuters) - Bahamian Steven Gardiner powered to victory in the 400 meters at the world championships on Friday, one month after he was personally affected by the hurricane which devastated his country.
Gardiner, who was troubled by an Achilles tendon problem earlier in the season, won in 43.48 seconds, making him the sixth-fastest 400m runner in history, as he went one better than the silver medal he claimed in London two years ago.
Colombian Anthony Zambrano produced a surge down the final straight as he charged from fourth to second to snatch the silver and leave American Fred Kerley, one of the pre-race favorites, with the bronze after an enthralling race.
Kirani James of Grenada, the former world and Olympic champion who has made a comeback this year after being plagued by injury for several seasons, finished fifth.
“Hurricane Dorian was very devastating for my family and my island,” Gardiner told reporters.
“I just wanted to come here to do my best. My friends and my family wanted me to perform, I was able to bring home a medal for my country. I just wanted to go there and make our country proud.”
Hurricane Dorian slammed into the Bahamas on Sept. 1 as a Category 5 storm, one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record to hit land, causing widespread devastation and killing at least 50 people.
Gardiner is from Abaco, one of the worst affected islands.
“Everybody was evacuated, my house was damaged but not destroyed,” he said. “The roof is still standing.”
He said that people had thrown a watch party in Nassau, where parts of the city are still without power, to follow the race on television.
Bahamas’ preparations for the championships have also been hit by wrangling between the athletics federation (BAAA) and the country’s Ministry for Youth, Sports and Culture over funding. At one point, the BAAA feared it might not be able to send a full team to Doha, although eventually it did.
“I don’t know much about that as I train in the U.S.,” said Gardiner. “I wasn’t paying too much attention.”
Although Doha’s Khalifa stadium was full for the evening’s athletics events, few people appeared to pay attention to the 400m as it took place minutes after local favorite Mutaz Barshim won the high jump for host nation Qatar.
The public address system broke during the race and the stadium was strangely quiet as Gardiner celebrated his win.
Kerley was fastest out of the blocks but Gardiner closed the gap, found another gear around the second bend and accelerated away to finish 0.67 seconds ahead of Zambrano.
“Coming around the bend, I thought I’ve got to make a move now or it’s going to be too late,” Gardiner said.
“I hit it at the right time and I managed to just keep my technique and hold on for dear life.
“It’s the best feeling ever right now,” added Gardiner. “I wanted to be a world champion and here I am now.”
Reporting by Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond and Ken Ferris