EUGENE, Ore. (KOIN) — The setting couldn’t have been better as English Gardner lined up for the finals heat of the women’s 100 meter dash. The heat of the day had cooled as the sun began to dip below the new grandstand at Hayward Field. Thousands sat on the edge of their seat, raptly awaiting the final gunshot of the evening.
But as she put her feet in the blocks, and set her fingers, something wasn’t right for Gardner.
“My heart rate was still high from the semi-final. I couldn’t calm my body down, I couldn’t recover fast enough.”
A gunshot and 100 meters later, Gardner crossed the line in sixth place. Three spots back of an Olympic spot.
“My body just wasn’t ready,” an emotional Gardner said after the race.
Two months ago, it could have been a different story for the 4×100 gold medalist from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro. But then, she contracted COVID-19.
“It was terrible.”
She developed “long-hauler” symptoms including leg pain, muscle cramping, joint swelling, extreme fatigue and respiratory issues. She even developed a full body rash. Once she was able to train again, she’d lost much of the progress she’d made in the last year and was having difficulty recovering between rounds as she’d need to in competition.
“It wasn’t until my coach, as a mad scientist, started putting workouts together to kind of mimic meets and mimic those situations,” Gardner recalled. “It kind of, I don’t know, shocked my body into doing right.”
It’s those workouts and training that gave her confidence heading into the weekend at Hayward Field, despite still suffering from long-hauler COVID-19 symptoms.
“I have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Gardner said the week before her race. “I’ve already beaten COVID, I feel like a conqueror and so this week will definitely just make me more than a conqueror.”
Gardner placed third in her first round, and the semi-finals to punch her ticket to the Finals, running an 11.17 and 10.96 respectively. The nearly 24 hours between the two rounds enough for her body to recover. The few hours between the semifinals and finals, simply were not.
“I just needed more time,” Gardner lamented after finishing sixth in the final round with a time of 11.16 seconds. “Unfortunately I caught COVID really late in the season and it took away a lot of the training.”
“That’s why this hurts so bad,” said an emotional Gardner. “I was so ready and it’s hard to explain to the world because you got to show it when it’s time and unfortunately my cards that I’m constantly dealt are just trash. There’s no other way I can put it, they’re just trash.”
Gardner’s sixth place finish is enough to qualify her for Team USA’s relay team, just as it did in 2016. And as obvious as it was that she was devastated by her own result, Gardner was quick to lift up the women who will be running for Team USA.
“I’m in awe of the ladies who got Top 3. We are sending some phenomenal athletes and to the Olympics, Tokyo is definitely going to be a show to watch.”
And doubled down on coming back stronger.
“This is not the end for me, I’m so crazy I’m going to keep training so I can just bust a great time.”
While the result wasn’t what she wanted, the lesson and reminder she gave all those who watched her fight in Eugene is as good as gold.
“I’m just so grateful to God for my life, I’m grateful that I can be another martyr for a testimony to let people know that no matter what life gives you and no matter what it throws at you, you have to be still and fight and know that you have it in you, to keep going, to be relentless, to be strong.”