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Gardner_English1-Pre16.JPGEnglish Gardner, her race be won, photo by PhotoRun.net

Young Sprinter Ready To Rock And Roll

As the 2013 NCAA outdoor track & field championships unfolded at Hayward Field, Oregon senior EnglishGardner was on a mission to defend the100m championship title she had captured the year before. In her preliminary round on her home turf, Gardner sustained an injury, but managed to hobble across the line to advance. It was far from clear whether or not the plucky sprinter would even be able to compete in the final. Two days later when the field filed out for the championship race, there was English Gardner - game face on and ready to roll. With her characteristic lightning start, the Duck got out quickly and dashed on for the win in 10.96. It was just another example of Gardner's uncanny ability to thrive in the midst of adversity.

It has always been that way for English Gardner. Beyond her obvious talent, the New Jersey native routinely brings a certain toughness to her sprinting - an underdog, nearly paranoid attitude in which she sees herself alone in a battle against the world. In her own way, the former Oregon sprint star has always seemed to parlay that internal annoyance bordering on anger into an effective mindset that allows her to unleash a 10-second torrent of fury at the crack of the starter's pistol. "This has definitely been a trait of mine since I was little. I've always kind of watched movies and cheered for the underdog - never the person who was supposed to win, never the person who was supposed to have the big moment," she offers. "For me, honestly, I do channel this anger. I am a very emotional runner. I run with my emotions on my sleeve. And you can see them when I'm on the line, when I cross the line."

"I definitely take [my channeled anger] as something that will propel me to have the performance that I need to have," said Gardner, suddenly transforming into a biblical philosopher. "To be honest, I started my training - my building of an ark for this Olympic year - in the fall. I began centering myself and working on myself. I started reading about David and Goliath and Noah and Daniel in the Lion's Den. I started interpreting these stories I had heard as a little girl and putting them in my life. The person I felt I gravitated to the most is Noah. Year after year I've watched people have what I wanted. Year after year, I've watched three talented women standing on podiums where I was supposed to stand. For me, I didn't want that to happen anymore. I did a lot of meditation and training, and now I know exactly what is inside of me. I know what I am capable of doing. I know that it is something that - when people watch me - they won't even believe that it happened. But I'm just waiting for it to show."

Some have misinterpreted the melodramatic intensity Gardner brings to her sprinting as evidence of a personal fragility that would not serve her well as a professional. So far, the two-time IAAF world championship silver medalist - on the short relay - has authored a post-collegiate résumé that has proved her doubters wrong. In 2013, she made the World Championship 100m final where her 10.97 4th place finish just missed a medal. But last August at the Beijing Worlds, Gardner was off her game and didn't make the final, as she ran a 11.13 to finish 4th in her semi.

This outdoor season, Gardner is showing signs of putting it all together. Just over a month ago at the Prefontaine Classic, she clocked 10.81 - currently #3 of this year's world list - to vanquish a star-studded field that included, among others, world-leading Murielle Ahoure, Tianna Bartoletta, Barbara Pierre, Carmelita Jeter, and Shelly Anne Fraser-Pryce. A globe-trotting display of sprinting excellence followed. Just 6 days later, Gardner was in Rome where she dashed 10.92 behind Jamaica's Elaine Thonpson. Just three days later, Gardner was in Birmingham where - under blustery conditions - she raced 11.02 to win her flight and prevail over Dafne Schippers and Bartoletta. It was her 3rd world-class 100 meter performance in 10 days. "I always say that times really don't matter," declares Gardner, downplaying her #3 WL mark and reasserting her claim to underdog status. "Yeah, I have the 3rd fastest time in the world this year. If you look at every prediction for this year and see who is going to make the team, I am never in the first spot. So I would say I am the underdog. The tiger really isn't on my back - it's on the other women. I am always looked at as the person who has a really good series of races and then she falls off and she doesn't perform in the big meets." And with a proclamation reminiscent of the late Muhammed Ali, Gardner adds, "This year it's my goal to change everyone's mind and actually 'shock the world' - as I always said when I was younger."

Gardner's unexpected 100 meter win at Pre this spring - which followed her 10.79 PR performance in Eugene in the outdoor nationals the year before - further solidified her love affair with Hayward Field and its adoring fans who have watched her mature and blossom as an Oregon undergraduate to become a hometown favorite. On the eve of the Olympic Trials, the 24 year old is hoping for a little home field advantage to give her a special edge in her quest to make her first Olympic team. Why is she so successful in Eugene? "Hayward magic! There's only one explanation for it," laughs Gardner. "When you know how to use it, you can use it to your advantage. And it's something I learned as a freshman here at the University of Oregon. When your magic comes, it does something to you. And I guess it treats Ducks a little bit special."

Gardner - whose 100 meter PR of 10.79 has earned her an all-time ranking of T7th in the U.S. and T15th in the world - is bringing a blend of confidence and realism to these Olympic Trials. "I am very excited about this season. I am in the best shape of my life," revealed the young sprinter. "Beginning in the fall, I started to build this thing I call my ark. I know there is something special inside of me. I am just waiting for you guys to see it rain," quipped Gardner. "And when you see it rain, you can come on board anytime you want." But what if it doesn't rain? "Oh, it will rain. I can smell it. I don't know if you guys can smell it, but I can smell it," offered Gardner playfully. "If it doesn't rain it eventually will. This is not something that I am saying will happen this year. I am praying and hoping and wishing that it does. But for the most part I have no doubt that it's going to rain. And that's my take on this year: I can't have doubt. I need to be confident because that's what my gig is about: having swagger, having confidence. I found over the years I would have it and then I would lose it. And this year I kind of changed. I know I am ready. I know I can go here and do what I need to do. I have very great competitors. But, honestly, if I just be English, I'll be fine."

Explaining further, the 5-time NCAA champion notes why she anticipates a violent storm of biblical proportions. "Earlier this year, I was completely loaded. I was in the weight room doing longer workouts, not doing any speed work. Leading up to the Trials, I've shortened things. I've worked on tactical race components. I've gone out of the weight room," she reveals. I've done amazing things when I was loaded. What's going to happen when I'm unloaded? That's what I am excited to see. That's the where the anticipation is for me. Is it going to drizzle? Or is it going to downpour?" Prognostications - especially the meteorological kind - are always tricky. But if you're heading to Hayward Field this weekend, you might want to bring an umbrella.

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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