Gaither looking forward to the Olympics

Last season, Tynia Gaither suffered one of the most tragic injuries that a track and field athlete could sustain when she tore her hamstring at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) West Regional in Austin, Texas, running for the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans women’s 4×100 meters (m) relay team.

Going into her senior season, many wondered if she would be able to perform at the same level as she did as a junior. The 23-year-old quickly put an end to all the speculation, putting together the best season of her collegiate career, which featured career-best times of 11.19 seconds in the 100 and 22.54 seconds in the 200m. She finished fourth and fifth in those two races, respectively, at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Gaither also anchored the Trojans to a school record time and second place finish in the women’s 4x100m relay, 42.90 seconds.

Last weekend at the Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations (BAAA) Senior National Championships, Gaither validated earlier performances.

She won the sprint double at the nationals, and will represent The Bahamas on the biggest stage for sports, the Olympic Games. The 2016 Olympic Games is set for August 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At the nationals, Gaither won 100m in 11.33 seconds and completed the sweep, winning the 200m in 23 seconds flat. Gaither will also join fellow Bahamian sprinters as they look to qualify for the Olympic Games in the women’s 4x100m relay at the Blue Marlin Track and Field Classic on Sunday, July 10 at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium. They hope to run fast enough to make the relay field of 16 nations that will compete at the Olympics.

“I’ve never been at my best for The Bahamas trials,” said Gaither. “I’m always struggling with injuries or something. To be in tip-top shape and go out there and win the double it was incredible. I came back knowing it was time for me to redeem myself and make up for everything I lost last year. I’m a junkie for nationals, for the top competition. Having to sit home and watch was very difficult, but it definitely sharpened my mental game to a level I’ve never been at. That has me where I am right now.”

On Monday, Gaither, who graduated from USC with a sociology degree, announced that she hopes to sign with an agent and turn professional in short order, preferably before the Olympics.

“My goal right now is to continue to focus on running fast. This is the best I’ve ever been, but I know I still have so much more room for growth,” she said.

The Olympics will serve as a major step into her development and value as a professional. “I will be completely satisfied if I PR (run personal best times) in both events,” she said. “I really hope to make the final and place in the 4×100 relay to put The Bahamas on the map again.”

The Bahamas women’s 4x100m relay team has yet to qualify for the Olympics, first of all. In all likelihood, the women would have to run two very fast times to do so because the times from a year ago almost certainly wouldn’t be good enough to get a team through.

A total of eight relay squads are already qualified, based on the results from last year’s International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) World Relay Championships right here in The Bahamas. The Bahamas missed a golden opportunity at those world relays, and will have to be in the top eight remaining teams in order to run in Rio de Janeiro. The remaining spots will be decided based on the aggregate of the two-fastest times achieved by national teams at IAAF sanctioned meets in the qualification period — January 1, 2015 to July 11, 2016. Those teams will be selected based on the results posted on the IAAF World Ranking List as of July 11. As for Gaither, she finished her collegiate career tied for seventh on USC’s all-time list in the 100m, and third in the 200m, and is now looking forward to the start of her professional career.