“Walking out for an Olympic final in front of thousands of fans – you can feel the energy of the crowd and I thrived on that.”
Jason Gardener is a Bath boy, born and bred. He is also an Olympic gold medallist who won world, Commonwealth and European titles galore during a glittering sprint career. He spent thousands of hours training for these major events at his sporting home – the University of Bath.
“I was seven-years-old at a schools sports day when I realised I could run fast. I remember being nervous and wanting to win and it’s the earliest memory of my life of being really good at something,” said Jason.
“I was captivated. It was my first memory of linking my talent with the Olympic Games. Seeing my heroes winning for Britain inspired me to want to emulate them and I’m sure it will be the same for many young people this summer watching their heroes at London 2012. I just didn’t realise at the time what a monstrous journey I was about to embark on!”
Having excelled at school and won every regional race going, Jason went to the English Schools Championships in 1992, his first national competition, and didn’t make the finals.
“It was the turning point for me. I realised that my talent alone wasn’t going to fulfil my Olympic dream. I had to develop other areas and surround myself with the right sort of environment and coaches which was difficult as there was no heritage of track and field in the south-west at the time.”
But turn things around he did and just a year later Jason was competing for Great Britain and the following year (1994) he won the World Junior Championships relay and took silver in the sprint.
“I first remember coming up to the University to use the grass out the front of buildings in the good weather. It was good for running on and doing general conditioning work. There wasn’t a track then or the Sports Training Village. Training conditions were a challenge.”
“From around 2000 onwards the University really started to develop and the introduction of an indoor running track made a great difference and meant I didn’t need to go overseas on training camps. The support, training staff and facilities were a perfect mix to produce world class performances.”
Jason competed in Sydney Olympics 2000 but in his own words he ‘underperformed’ and the sprint team ‘failed’. He took a year to get over the disappointment but says he learnt from the experience to come back stronger four years later at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
Coming into those Games, the US sprint team were red hot favourites and after the Sydney disqualification the British team were given no chance by the UK media.
“On paper we were 11 metres slower than them which is massive in sprinting terms; we’d underperformed in the individual events and I’d had major surgery just months before so you can see why some thought we wouldn’t even make the final,” remembers Jason.
“But as a team we had complete confidence; we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They were going for a world record. We knew that if we were going to win they would need to make a mistake and we would have to run the perfect race.”
As Jason, who was due to the run the opening leg of the 4 x 100m relay, went through his usual pre-race routine on the track he noticed he had been given a gold coloured baton.
“It felt like a sign. I tried to stay focused and not look around but I did snatch a quick look at the Nigerian sprinter and he had a bronze coloured one and when I looked over to the US theirs was blue! It gave me greater confidence that this was our night.
“It was a case of channelling all the nerves, excitement, experience and pressure into that one performance. We matched them over the first two legs and when they had a disastrous changeover on the third leg we nailed it and gave Mark Lewis-Francis the baton with a two metres lead.
“He handled that immense pressure brilliantly and brought us home for gold. To think we are part of UK sporting history is hard to comprehend even today.”
Jason is still heavily involved with the University of Bath as a sporting consultant and an ambassador.
“The University, its facilities and its staff, played a massive part in my career and I love the buzz around the place – particularly around an Olympics year with so much at stake.”