The domestic lounge of Leonard M. Thompson International Airport in Abaco was a hub of activity on September 3, as officials of several government agencies joined friends and family members to welcome home the island hero, Olympian Bronze Medalist Stephen Gardiner, as he came home from Switzerland where he just participated in two Track & Field events.
Grandmother Viola, mother Theresa Gardiner, sisters Misha Smith and Regina Cox, the representative of the Ministry of Sports, Youth and Culture, Ishmael Morley, the Prime Minister’s Office Manager Enid White, the Superintendent of the District of Education Lenora Black, the Chief Councillor for Abaco George Cornish, representatives of the media and a crowd of supporters were allowed in the arrival lounge where they waited expectantly to see the young athlete walk through the doors.
“That’s my boy!” proudly exclaimed Mrs. Gardiner, as she saw her son on the tarmac approaching the building.
It was a rush of hugs and embraces as the athlete from Murphy Town walked into the terminal; the several minutes of welcomes extended all the way to the outside where more people were waiting asking for autographs. “Stevie” to his family and friends was then to go to Cooper’s Town to participate in a back to school give away and to Crown Haven to visit other family members.
Twenty-years-old, Stephen Gardiner, Bronze Medal recipient in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro’s Summer Olympics Games, had immediately left Brazil after the games to participate in two IAA F Track & Field Junior Championship, Diamond League events, first in Lausanne on August 25 where he placed second in the 400m (44.75 seconds) behind La Shawn Merritt and then in Zurich on September 1, where he place fifth.
Gardiner’s athletic career started in 2013 when he participated in his school’s team in the Penn Relays Track & Field Competition. He was at the time coached by Pastor Anthony Williams of Moore’s Island All Age School.
The following year, he entered the CARIFTA games, an annual athletics competition founded by the Caribbean Free Trade Association, held that year in Martinique. There he won his first silver medal in the 4x100m relay and a bronze medal in the 4x400m relay.
Back at home, he won the Bahamas National Track & Field Championship in June 2014.
The CARIFTA events were the turning point in what was to become his athletic career as he was noticed by a sub-agent for a man sports shoe sponsor. The company sponsored him to go to the University of Georgia for training after graduating from Moore’s Island All Age School. He was there in the Fall of 2014 and through the 2015 season, coached by George Cleare.
“There, I did more and harder training, started a weight program and competed in more top competitions,” Gardiner said.
Soon he was entering IAAF Junior Championships, improving on his performances. His first silver medal was won at home in 2015 at the IAAF World Relay Junior Championships. It was that year in June that he broke his personal record, running the 400 in 44.27.
During the 2015 season, he decided to focus on the 400m and became the youngest Bahamian to run it under 45 (44.64) giving him a first place at the IAAF Brislett games in Oslo. That was his opportunity to mark his debut in the IAAF Diamond League circuit. He broke the 45 again last June in Florida, running the 400m in 44.65.
Competitions have allowed the young man to travel to many places all over the world, experiencing the good as well as the bad.
His favorite climate to run is not too cold as in Switzerland nor too hot as in 115 degree of Dahar, but just warm as in The Bahamas. Social life among various international athletes is friendly as they share cafeteria space outside of competitive events, but it stops at the functions. The only long term socializing is with Bahamian athletes.
After resting a while on Abaco, Gardiner’s goals are to keep working hard with off-season training. He wants to build more strength to go to European meets such as the London’s IAAF World Championships. The 2020 Tokyo’s Olympics might be a possibility.
“It will depend on the coach and how I am feeling,” the young athlete said.
Starting January of 2017 Gardiner is planning to concentrate on 200m and 400 races. He recalled that his junior record in the 200m was 20.65 when he was 15 years old.
“Family support has been important,” Gardiner said.
“My mother has been calling every day, telling me how great it was that I made it that far.”
Gardiner says Coach Williams is still part of his life. “We communicate very often,” Gardiner added.