English Gardner’s runner-up may have been her biggest victory yet

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English Gardner, by finishing second in the 100m at the recent USATF Outdoor Championships, marked yet another resurgent victory in a young career full of them.

“The most distinguished quality of a person that becomes great in this sport is that they never quit,” the 27-year-old said after qualifying for the world championships as one of the top three finishers in Des Moines on July 26. “I joke around with my dad and all my friends, I’m like Freddy and Jason in this sport. You can’t kill me.”

While Gardner was a high school freshman, her mom, Monica, was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. While she underwent treatment, Gardner’s father, Anthony, suffered a stroke. Both lived. Then Gardner, in her junior year, tore her ACL, MCL and meniscus in a powder puff football game. She came back and earned a scholarship to the University of Oregon.

Come 2016, Gardner entered the Rio Olympics as the world’s second-fastest woman for the year. She had won the U.S. Olympic Trials 100m in 10.74 seconds, making her the fourth-fastest American in history. She revealed that she overcame depression and anxiety to get there.

Gardner did not say it then, but she also ran that summer, and finished seventh in Rio, on a torn meniscus suffered while doing stadiums (Gardner said it happened in February; her father said closer to trials). Gardner did not get it diagnosed, but she knew immediately what the buckle meant, remembering that high school injury.

Anthony, her coach since age 8 (some full-time, some advisory), said Gardner moved out of the Olympic Village during the Games and stayed with her parents. The injury kept her from walking out for meals.

After the 100m final, Anthony remembered his daughter’s tears. And her punching a wall.

“She had no push out of the blocks,” he said. “It was by the grace of God that we didn’t do more damage [to the knee].” Gardner underwent surgery after the Games.

The most devastating setback of Gardner’s career would not come until July 21, 2017, father and daughter agreed.

She tore her ACL again — all of these injuries have been to the same right knee. It happened on a live stream and on slow-motion replay, that knee bending awkwardly as she passed a relay baton in Monaco. A third knee surgery followed.

Behind schedule in her recovery, Gardner considered the end of her track career.

“It was a small moment where I just knew that it could be a possibility that I just never do what I love again,” she said. “Quickly, the monster in me snapped back. I had to have a lot of conversations with myself. This was all mental.”

Anthony, a former hurdler and triple jumper, had made annual trips to Los Angeles to stay with Gardner, injury after injury to start her pro career. “She kept getting hurt, causing mental distress,” he said.

After Monaco, Gardner decided to move from California back home with her parents, a pastor and bishop at Life Giving Word Ministries in Mount Laurel, N.J. She joined the song and praise team on Sundays and helped in the youth department.

“She wanted to go back to her roots,” Anthony said. “I enjoy being her parent [rather than full-time coach], but she was persistent, insisted she go back home.”

Gardner raced twice late in the 2018 season — the sport’s fallow year of the four-year Olympic cycle, the only one with no Olympics or outdoor world championships. She trained to make a full-fledged return this season.

But in the winter she tore her right hamstring decelerating in practice. It benched her for a month. She returned on no training for Diamond League meets in Rome and Stanford, Calif., clocking 11.42 and 11.24 seconds. She ranked 57th in the world for 2019 and 24th among Americans at the end of June.

“I had to call my agents and tell them not to give up on me,” Gardner said, “because I just felt like I wasn’t performing the way I was supposed to perform.”

Then came USATF Outdoors, the key meet of the summer. Make the top three in the 100m, and your season continues through later-than-usual worlds in late September and early October in Doha. Miss the team, and it’s time to start thinking about 2020.

“My legs are there. I’ve just got to trust it,” she told Flotrack after finishing second in her first-round heat in 11.28 into a significant headwind.

The next day, Gardner won her semifinal in 11.16 into an even greater headwind, her most impressive time since the Olympics when factoring in wind.

In the two hours between the semis and final, Gardner saw the start list and noticed that she was the oldest of the eight-woman field. Back in 2013, Gardner became the youngest U.S. women’s 100m champion since 1980. She remains the fastest woman in history without an Olympic or world 100m medal.

The veteran ran an even final, staying with the leaders as younger women faded in the last strides. She took second to Teahna Daniels, 11.20 to 11.25 into a headwind, to qualify for worlds. Gardner, wearing a necklace with the words “No Matter What,” found her father.

“She said, ‘You’re a great coach,'” Anthony said. “I said, ‘You’re a great athlete.'”

Gardner looks forward to being able to train, hopefully uninhibited, for two months straight before flying to Qatar.

“I’m a little scared at what’s going to happen,” Gardner said, believing that amount of time to prepare can lead her to lower her personal best of 10.74 (the world’s fastest women this year, Jamaicans Elaine Thompson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, have run 10.73). “My mom always says, you can eat a whole elephant, but you’ve got to eat it one bite at a time.”

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Ironman Kona World Championships return for first time in three years, live on Peacock

Ironman Kona World Championship
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The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic marathon champ in 1984, runs London Marathon at 65

Joan Benoit Samuelson
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Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, ran her first 26.2-mile race in three years at Sunday’s London Marathon and won her age group.

Benoit Samuelson, 65, clocked 3 hours, 20 minutes, 20 seconds to top the women’s 65-69 age group by 7 minutes, 52 seconds. She took pleasure in being joined in the race by daughter Abby, who crossed in 2:58:19.

“She may have beaten me with my replacement knee, but everybody said I wouldn’t do it! I will never say never,” Benoit Samuelson said, according to race organizers. “I am a grandmother now to Charlotte, and it’s my goal to run 5K with her.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Benoit Samuelson raced the 1987 Boston Marathon while three months pregnant with Abby. Before that, she won the first Olympic women’s marathon at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, plus the Boston Marathon in 1979 and 1983 and the Chicago Marathon in 1985.

Her personal best — 2:21:21 — still holds up. She ranks sixth in U.S. women’s history.

Benoit Samuelson plans to race the Tokyo Marathon to complete her set of doing all six annual World Marathon Majors. The others are Berlin, Boston, Chicago and New York City.

“I’m happy to finish this race and make it to Tokyo, but I did it today on a wing and a prayer,” she said, according to organizers. “I’m blessed to have longevity in this sport. It doesn’t owe me anything, but I feel I owe my sport.”

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