English Gardner

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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Justin Gatlin, Tori Bowie win 100m at USATF Outdoor Championships

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Justin Gatlin isn’t relinquishing his U.S. sprint crown just yet.

The 35-year-old overtook young phenom Christian Coleman to win the 100m at the USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast, in Sacramento, Calif., on Friday night.

Gatlin, who took silver to Usain Bolt at the 2013 and 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics, came back to beat Coleman in 9.95 seconds. Coleman, 21, hung on for second in 9.98, well off his world-leading 9.82 from earlier this month.

Chris Belcher, 23, grabbed the last 100m spot on the London world championships team in 10.06.

“These two young guns trying to make a name for themselves, and I’m just trying to keep coming,” Gatlin told Lewis Johnson on NBCSN.

Gatlin was an underdog Friday, having not broken 10 seconds in four wind-legal races this year going into the final.

He missed weeks of training this season, slowed by a quadriceps/groin problem since February, according to The Associated Press.

If Bolt is anywhere near top form, Gatlin’s 9.95 won’t challenge for gold at worlds in August. It’s the slowest winning time at nationals in a championship year since Gatlin’s first title in 2005.

“It wasn’t spectacular times you see me run the last couple of years,” Gatlin told media in Sacramento. “It was a time where I needed to fight. … I’m balancing accomplishment and hunger, and I’ve got to be able to find that hunger again.”

USATF OUTDOORS: Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

Earlier Friday, Olympic silver medalist Tori Bowie won the women’s 100m easily in 10.94.

Bowie was followed by Rio Olympian Deajah Stevens (11.08) and Ariana Washington (11.10). Allyson Felix was eighth, but she wasn’t planning on racing the 100m at worlds anyway.

“The goal was to make the [world] team [by finishing top three],” Bowie told Lewis Johnson on NBCSN. “I’m using each race as a training cycle before I get to London.”

Meanwhile in Jamaica, Olympic 100m champion Elaine Thompson won her national title in 10.71 seconds, one hundredth off her shared national record. Bowie is as of now an underdog going into worlds in August.

Yohan Blake won the Jamaican 100m title in 9.90, his fastest time since 2012, when he became the second-fastest man of all time. Bolt skipped the Jamaican Championships as he has a bye into worlds as defending champion.

Gatlin, Coleman, Blake and Canadian Andre De Grasse are looking like the biggest threats to Bolt at the final meet of his career.

In other USATF Outdoors events Friday, Blake Leeper took Oscar Pistorius off the IPC athletics record book by running 45.25 in the 400m semifinals.

Though Leeper didn’t make Saturday’s final, he is the first double amputee to compete at a USATF Outdoor Championships. Leeper raced for the first time since the end of a cocaine ban earlier this week.

“I can remember back in 2008, when I was in my college dorm room [pre-med at the University of Tennessee], never run a track meet in my life, seeing [Pistorius] run for the first time,” Leeper said. “That inspired me.”

Trey Hardee completed his first decathlon in nearly two years and won the U.S. title with 8,225 points. That ranks him 10th in the world this year.

Hardee, 33, captured the 2009 and 2011 World Championships, beating the now-retired Ashton Eaton, plus a 2012 Olympic silver medal. He withdrew on the second day of the 2016 Olympic Trials decathlon after suffering a left hamstring injury on the first day and suffered a heel tear earlier this year.

“I’m worried about my foot every single event,” said Hardee, who was listed as retired on Wikipedia as of Friday evening. “I’m a snake in the grass right now. No one really knows what to expect.”

Vashti Cunningham, daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, won her first U.S. outdoor title in the high jump.

Cunningham, who finished 13th in Rio at age 18, cleared an outdoor personal best of 1.99 meters on Friday. She ranks No. 2 in the world this year.

“I want to win world championships, and I want to break 2.0 [meters],” Cunningham said.

London Olympic silver medalist Brigetta Barrett was fourth, just missing the world team.

Rio silver medalist Paul Chelimo and Olympian Shelby Houlihan won the 5000m titles.

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Five women’s events to watch at USATF Outdoor Championships

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The women’s fields at the USATF Outdoor Championships (Summer Champions Series) feature the most decorated female track and field athlete of all time (Allyson Felix).

They feature the deepest races of the meet (100m hurdles, 400m hurdles).

And two inspiring stories — Gabriele Grunewald contesting the 1500m in between chemotherapy treatments and Alysia Montano in the 800m while five months pregnant.

Then there’s the world-record holder who shockingly missed the Rio Olympics (Keni Harrison) and two strong head-to-head rivalries (noted in events to watch).

The top three finishers per event make the roster, should they reach the qualifying times or marks.

In addition to the top three, reigning world champions from 2015 and Diamond League champions from 2016 receive automatic byes into worlds, should they toe the start line in Sacramento.

The women could well produce the headlines every day at nationals, beginning Thursday on NBC Sports Gold. A full broadcast schedule is here.

Here are five women’s events to watch:

100m
Thursday (first round)
Friday (semifinals, final)
2016 Olympics: Tori Bowie (silver), English Gardner (7th), Tianna Bartoletta (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Aleia Hobbs (4th, 10.85), Mikiah Brisco (7th, 10.96), Deajah Stevens (8th, 11.00), Ashley Henderson (9th, 11.01)

Outlook: Hobbs, Brisco, Stevens and Henderson are all collegians and may be hard-pressed to repeat those best times two weeks after the NCAA Championships. Hobbs’ 10.85 was an outlier during a 12-race season where her second-best time was 11.02, according to Tilastopaja.org.

Bowie is just behind them in this year’s rankings but also ran a wind-aided 10.80 in April. She’s the favorite. Less certain are fellow pros Gardner and Bartoletta. Gardner dealt with a reported calf tear this spring and came back to run 11.32 on June 10. Bartoletta may be focusing more on the long jump, her Olympic gold-medal event. Her last three wind-legal 100m times were 11.26, 11.47 and 11.49.

The door could be open for Allyson Felix, who ran 11.07 on May 20, her only 100m in the last two years. She is planning to race the 100m in Sacramento, but with a bye into the worlds 400m, the short sprint may not be in her long-term gameplan.

MORE: Five men’s events to watch

1500m
Thursday (first round)
Saturday (final)
2016 Olympics: Jenny Simpson (bronze), Shannon Rowbury (4th), Brenda Martinez (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Kate Grace (17th, 4:03.59), Simpson (19th, 4:04.16), Rowbury (23rd, 4:04.61), Lauren Johnson (34th, 4:05.88)

Outlook: Storylines on both days here. First, Gabriele Grunewald will be magnetic on the opening day in Sacramento, racing in between chemotherapy treatments. The final will likely be a battle between rivals Simpson and Rowbury. Simpson is the three-time reigning U.S. champion. Rowbury is the American record holder. Martinez is only racing the 800m in Sacramento, despite holding the two fastest 1500m times this year among Americans.

400m Hurdles
Friday (first round)
Saturday (semifinals)
Sunday (final)
2016 Olympics: Dalilah Muhammad (gold), Ashley Spencer (bronze), Sydney McLaughlin (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Spencer (1st, 53.38), Shamier Little (2nd, 54.44), McLaughlin (3rd, 54.03), Georganne Moline (4th, 54.09)

Outlook: Unquestionably the U.S.’ best event this year — male or female. In only one other event does the U.S. have the top two in the world rankings (men’s triple jump). Americans make up the top four here, and that’s not even including the Rio Olympic champion Muhammad or the Diamond League champion Cassandra Tate, who has a bye into worlds. Two world medal threats are guaranteed to be left off the London team.

200m
Saturday (first round)
Sunday (semifinals, final)
2016 Olympics: Tori Bowie (bronze), Deajah Stevens (7th), Jenna Prandini (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Bowie (1st, 21.77), Kyra Jefferson (4th, 22.02), Stevens (5th, 22.09), Allyson Felix (7th, 22.33)

Outlook: Bowie, a sprint medalist of every color in Rio, shaved .22 off her personal best to win the Prefontaine Classic on May 27. She beat the Rio Olympic 200m and 400m gold and silver medalists handily. She is in a class of her own. Felix, who used to own this event, will have to oust either Jefferson or Stevens for one of the other two berths. Felix is 31 years old. Jefferson and Stevens are each 22 but could be at a disadvantage if they peaked for the NCAA Championships two weeks ago.

Pole Vault
Sunday
2016 Olympics: Sandi Morris (silver), Jenn Suhr (7th), Lexi Weeks (19th)
2017 World Rankings: Morris (2nd, 4.84m), Suhr (3rd, 4.83m), Morgan Leleux (9th, 4.65m), Annie Rhodes (15th, 4.61m)

Outlook: Morris and the 2012 Olympic champion Suhr are both near locks to make the world team, but the excitement is in their head-to-head battle. Morris was second to Suhr at nationals in 2014, 2015 and 2016 before breaking out in Rio. Suhr coughed up blood the morning of the Rio final, affected by illness. This year, Suhr and Rio gold medalist Katerina Stefanidi of Greece are the only women to clear 4.80 meters both indoors and outdoors.

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