By Omar Mohammed
TOKYO (Reuters) -Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas won the 400 metres on Thursday, becoming the first athlete to win Olympic gold in an individual men's event in his country's history, after a carefully balanced race shut out the Americans over a distance they once dominated.
Anthony Zambrano of Colombia took silver, becoming the first male athlete from the South American nation to win an Olympic medal in athletics.
Kirani James of Grenada grabbed bronze, his third medal in the event and his country's first of the Games, after winning gold in 2012 and silver in 2016. He is the first athlete to win three Olympic medals in the men's 400m.
Gardiner, who sat on the track holding the palms of his hands together after winning in a season's best time of 43.85 seconds, stumbled out of the blocks and trailed midway through the race.
"I recovered, I kept it moving and with 200m to go, I started to push a little bit," he said. "And (with) 100m to go, I gave it all I've got.
"I came across the line and saw my name on the big screen and I was in first place," he told reporters. "I'm cherishing this moment. Olympic champion."
James said he was happy being a part of the elite of his sport after securing bronze.
"I'm just happy to be back on the podium, happy competing against these guys, they are so good," James said. "I lost my mother in 2019, so obviously this was kind of like a goal, I wish she would have been here to see me be back."
Zambrano, who went into the race wearing gold earrings saying "400", dedicated his silver medal to his mother.
"I am very happy to win this medal and I want to dedicate this to my family, my country. But more importantly, to my mother because it is her birthday today," he said. "I want to show to the world that Colombia belongs on the athletics stage."
American Michael Cherry finished a disappointing fourth ahead of his compatriot Michael Norman to continue the country's poor run in the event.
The U.S. had won seven straight golds beginning in 1984 to 2008, with two podium sweeps during that stretch. But they have failed to win the title since, with James securing gold in 2012 and South Africa's Wayde van Niekerk winning in Rio five years ago.
On Thursday, a terrific run by Gardiner proved decisive.
After failing to make the final in 2016, he powered to victory, adding the Olympic title to the world gold he won in Doha in 2019.
He told reporters he had dealt with knee and ankle issues during the season but ran through the pain barrier to secure his country's first medal of the Games.
"When I saw that I was in front, the pain was unbearable, but I just wanted to win," Gardiner said.
(Reporting by Omar Mohammed; Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla; editing by Hugh Lawson, Toby Davis and Ed Osmond)