2013 World Outdoor Track & Field Championships / Moscow Notebook, Gardner's Harvest, Young Sprinter Reaps Much From Topsy-Turvy Year by Dave Hunter

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In this piece, Dave Hunter looks at English Gardner, one of our most promising and exciting new professional sprinters, who won the NCAA 100m title and USATF 100m title before taking fourth in her first World Championships. 

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2013 World Outdoor Track & Field Championships / Moscow Notebook

Gardner's Harvest, Young Sprinter Reaps Much From Topsy-Turvy Year

August 15, 2013
Moscow, Russia

Track & field - like life - is all about how you do on Plan B.  Because this exacting sport - at one time or another -  deals out injuries, sub-par performances, and an array of other disappointments to every athlete without exception, only the most hearty and resourceful are able not only to endure, but also ultimately to overcome and to thrive.  For most, this resiliency is learned behavior - a trait founded upon survival and forged out of the necessity of overcoming the inevitable adversity that confronts all track & field athletes.

This uncertainty can be maddening.  You either learn to live with it and move on.  Or you cannot endure it and you depart for other pursuits.

English Gardner has learned to live with it.  And she is moving on - to the upper echelon of our sport.

2013 has been quite an emotional and physical roller coaster ride for the young sprinter.  The last 120 days in particular have tested the mettle of this New Jersey native who is just barely 21.  Starting the year off as the University of Oregon's star sprinter, Gardner quickly learned that a long season of track & field would likely become even longer - and with elevated expectations.  This year the Lady Ducks faced the unprecedented opportunity to score a "Triple Crown" - a chance to ring up national titles in indoor and outdoor track & field to join the national cross country title the women's cross squad had captured in the fall.  To be sure, the tantalizing challenge inspired all.  But it also meant earlier and multiple peaking and shunning rehab for physical aches and pains which might otherwise have been given rest if less had been on the line.  This challenge only became more paramount when the Ducks did, in fact, capture the collegiate indoor crown.  In a peculiar way, this team success played particular havoc with the petite sprinter [I'm 5' 6" and 125 pounds soaking wet," Gardner proudly proclaims.] who developed a nagging and lingering ankle problem.  The injury weighed heavily on Gardner - promoting a variety of emotions.  Everything was happening so fast.  Gardner worked heroically to finesse her way through the extended college season - gingerly nursing her bad wheel while keeping herself available to chase team points for the Ducks.  It came to a head at the NCAA outdoor meet - staged on the Oregon campus.  Stoically competing as the Ducks chased the outdoor title, Gardner performed erratically in the early rounds - advancing in the 100, looking terrible in the 200.  Questioned as to whether or not she could even run the 100 final, Gardner - unsure herself - put on a brave face and mused she would "have to have a serious conversation with her ankle."  The next day - when many feared a disastrous, perhaps injury-oriented effort by Gardner - the young sprinter miraculously won the 100 title, posting a winning time of 10.96.

Gardner's sparkling NCAA 100 victory came amid a variety of other subpar marks by the Oregon women as the Triple Crown dream slipped away.  But the sprinter's life was not about to slow down.  The day after her stunning 100 victory, she turned pro.

Hustled off less than two weeks later to Des Moines for the national championship meet, Gardner would not have been faulted had she fallen flat on her face.  She did not.  All she did was run a P.R world-leading time of 10.85 to win the national 100 title.  In less than three weeks, Gardner had gone from the brink of what might have been a career-threatening injury to suddenly posting a WL 10.85 to lead the U.S. women's sprint fortunes in Moscow's world championships.

The roller coaster roared onward.  Without a meaningful break, Gardner headed overseas for yet more competitions.   After a few unremarkable European appearances, Gardner arrived in Moscow for the world championships.  Did she have anything left in the tank?

She did.  Gardner looked spectacular in the first round of the 100 - riding a .122 reaction time to post a scintillating winning mark of 10.94. Moving through the rounds to make the final, Gardner - a professional for less than 2 months - just missed the podium with a 4th place finish - 10.97 - in a highly competitive final.  

"I can't even explain how I feel right now.  It's not any disappointment at all," an upbeat but obviously exhausted Gardner shared after the WC 100 final.  "I had such a long season.  I came out of college.  I ran a couple good races.  And I got out and ran my best.  I showed up.  I came up short by just a fraction of a second.  So I cannot explain how excited I am, how overwhelmed I am about this."

Gardner is not reticent to discuss the challenges she faced this year and the manner by which she had to cope with them.  "It's really been up and down.  I definitely noticed that it took so much out of me," she admits.  "So I had to stop worrying about what was going on and take each day one at a time.  You never notice how much things weigh on you until you feel it, you see it.  I definitely had some lessons learned this season - a long season, almost over.  But it was a wonderful season.  I can't ask for anything more."

The new professional sprinter is candid about mercurial swings in her year and the twists and turns that ultimately found her in the world 100 final chasing a medal.  "It [world championship competition] was always a goal of mine.  I am not going to tell you that I saw it coming.  There were always obstacles that came across me this year.  I've had a rough year physically and mentally. So for me to be able to do what I did today, I am more happy than anything in the world."

The tiny sprinter comes alive when she thinks about the chances of the USA women's 4x100 squad in these world championships.  "I am so excited for the relay.  I will probably run 4th or 3rd - one or the other.  It depends. It is really up in the air.  I think we are going to do fantastic.  We have a very talented team."  And with a smile, she adds, "I don't think for one second that we won't grab a medal."
 
When Gardner looks ahead - beyond this season - she likes what she sees.  "There is so much more I have to learn.  I am so young - just turned 21.  I've got so many years ahead of me.  So for me to come out here - my first year as a pro - to take 4th at world championships by just a fraction of a second, it's shuddering to me."

English Gardner is an exceptional and focused athlete who exudes a strong inner confidence. And given that Gardner - at the tender age of 21 - has this year faced and ultimately overcome a series of unexpected challenges to assemble a most impressive internationally-elite track & field season, she has reason to be.  

~Dave Hunter

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