At RunBlogRun, we like to give you, our kind and supportive readers, and viewers, a wide breadth of comments and opinions. We are pleased to be working with 4 young writers, thoughtfully observed by Lori Shontz, Professor of Practice/ Journalism and Communications at the University of Oregon. We have worked with Lori before to seek out thoughts of young writers on the sport and media at Olympic Trials.
RunBlogRun has supported this program since 2016.
This piece, on the women’s 100m, and specifically, English Gardner, was written by Matt Wisner.
When we asked Matt Wisner why he is drawn to track & field?
Matt responded: “I tried to qualify for the Trials but couldn’t quite make it happen. Writing about the meet was the next best thing.”
All pieces edited by Lori Shontz and Larry Eder.
After having COVID, English Gardner runs her fastest time of the year, narrowly misses the Olympic team , By Matt Wisner
SOJC Track Bureau for RunBlogRun
English Gardner was the first one off the track after the women’s 100-meter final Saturday at the Olympic Trials. Other athletes celebrated. Some stuck around to talk to their competitors. But Gardner exited the stadium quickly.
The Olympic gold medalist and two-time U.S. champion contracted COVID-19 about six weeks ago but would not sacrifice her dream of returning to the Olympic Games. Her stoicism prevailed over her rationality, and she crafted an unconventional season for herself, routinely running slower than desired, all in hopes that she’d be ready to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team by the end of June.
But Gardner wasn’t quite ready. She ran a strong 10.96 in the semifinal to qualify for the final. In the final, though, she couldn’t go any faster. She ran 11.16 and finished sixth.
“A month ago I couldn’t even practice,” Gardner said, holding back tears. “And I was able to come here and break 11 seconds and compete for a spot on the Olympic team.”
Despite her body holding her back, Gardner has been racing since the moment she knew she was no longer contagious. She competed in the USATF Golden Games at Mt. SAC and ran 11.29 in the preliminary round to qualify for the final.
One race isn’t a problem for Gardner. It’s the second round that makes things difficult for her; when her heart rate is elevated, she can’t get it back down the way she could before she contracted COVID. At the Golden Games, she came back to run 11.50 in the final — 0.80 seconds slower than her personal best, which, in the 100 meters, is a substantial amount of time.
Gardner had the same challenge at the Olympic Trials. “My heart rate was still high from the semifinals,” Gardner said. “I couldn’t calm my body down. I couldn’t recover fast enough.”
Even during her interview after the race, Gardner was panting in between responses to questions. “It’s hard to catch my breath even though I ran like five minutes ago,” she said. “I promise I’m not out of shape.”
Gardner ran 11.16 in the final. Of all the times she had to run two races in one day this season, this was the fastest. Every week that passes, she moves closer to bringing her body back into her control. “I just needed a little more time,” she said, confident that she can still run fast this year despite not making the Olympic team.
“Obviously this is not the end for me. I’m so crazy — I’m going to keep training just so I can bust a great time,” Gardner said, making it clear that it’s her love for the sport that keeps her going, not a singular compulsion to garner recognition.
Later this summer, Gardner hopes to “pop off a good time,” with her eyes set on 10.70 — a few hundredths of a second faster than her personal best of 10.74, which she set in 2016 when she won the Olympic Trials and qualified for Rio — and became the eighth fastest woman ever.
As soon as competition resumed during the pandemic, track athletes everywhere were incredibly vigilant — even paranoid — about contracting the virus. One instance of bad timing could ruin four years of hard work and sacrifice. Bad timing is what Gardner encountered.
Overcoming COVID-19 was a challenge that may have seemed insurmountable, but Gardner thought she was prepared to overcome hardship. “The cards that I’m constantly dealt are trash,” Gardner said in reference to the numerous challenges she’s been vocal about through her athletic career: multiple serious injuries, her mother’s near-death from cancer, and her father’s stroke.
Family is everything to Gardner. Both of her parents are pastors, and her relationship to her faith is important to her; it’s how she understands her reality.
“Every day my dad was speaking life into me,” Gardner told NBC. “These words have enough power to allow me to transcend into a different person and push past any limits that have been placed on myself.”
Competing at the trials was a homecoming of sorts for Gardner. In 2012, she was the University of Oregon’s first Black individual national champion when she won the 60 meters at indoor NCAAs. She went on to win five national titles at Oregon. The hometown crowd cheered louder after Gardner’s introduction than they did for any of her competitors.
There’s even a concession stand at the new Hayward Field named in Gardner’s honor. When she shows up to “English’s Garden” later this week, they’ll know who she is. “I’m probably not going to bring my money. I’m just going to show my ID,” Gardner said. “Hopefully that will get me a free meal.”