Kirani James profile


London 2012 Olympics: Kirani James is the teenager from Grenada who became the new kid on the block in Daegu

They were not exactly underselling the event back on the Caribbean spice island of Grenada. “This is, to my mind, the most important event that ever happened to our country,” enthused the island’s police commissioner, James Clarkson. “Even more important than Christopher Columbus landing!”

London 2012 Olympics: Kirani James is the teenager from Grenada who became the new kid on the block

By Ian Chadband

3:30PM BST 21 Sep 2011

The voyage of discovery of Kirani James, a string-bean teenage kid who had just completed his sprint all the way from the hard streets of Gun Battle, a ghetto area of the coastal fishing village of Gouyave, to world athletics championship glory in the faraway Korean city of Daegu, had ignited an extraordinary outpouring of national pride and exhilaration.

In less time than the 44.60 seconds it had taken James to smoulder round his lap and become, at 18, the youngest-ever sprinter to win a senior individual global title, everyone in Grenada, it seemed, had donned the national colours of red, green and yellow and were all spilling out towards D’Lanse, the road where the kid they called “the Jaguar” had grown up.

The prime minister, Tillman Thomas, popped in to congratulate James’s family while, outside, kids beat their drums, blew horns and asked: “Where the Jamaican athletes them? Follow we!”

It was still breakfast time on the island but back in Daegu, James already knew the score as he told us all: “They call Gouyave the town that never sleeps. I hope the carnival will still be going on when I get home!”

There are some dazzling stories that scorch straight out of the blue at championships like this. In truth, we ought to have been prepared for the Kirani James thunderbolt. After all, the athletics world had already been anointing this boy the “new Usain Bolt” for a good couple of years thanks to his quicksilver feet and precocious feats.
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Yet when James, a kid running on gloriously raw, unpolished talent, rolled his way past reigning champion LaShawn Merritt to win the 400m title two days before his 19th birthday, we somehow felt as if we had all unearthed a precious new discovery. It was Grenada’s fairy tale, but it was the sports world’s great find too.

“It’s a golden opportunity for sports and tourism in our nation. There is no price that we can put on Kirani’s victory,’’ Peter David, Grenada’s tourism minister, boomed, presumably delighted that, through James’s exploits, the island might be renowned for something other than being invaded in 1983 by United States forces when Ronald Reagan feared Communist influence.

Yet at the same time, James was making a breakthrough for his sport as well as his island. Athletics has been a personality-starved zone of late and when Bolt was disqualified for false starting in the 100m in Daegu, you could feel the anxiety of the IAAF hierarchy, wondering where they could instantly lay their hands on fresh charisma.

They struck lucky with James, who has identified himself, just like Bolt, as potentially an athlete for the ages.

The lovely thing about James at the moment is that he still acts with a fresh modesty which gives no hint that he has any idea quite how good he is. Responding to questioners with a polite “Yes, sir”, ask him where he believes his talent will lead him and he shrugs only that “time will tell” and that he is just happy at the moment making Grenada proud.

The island is mad about the boy who has never stopped winning races there since he was a 12 year-old from a sports-mad family who discovered not just that track could be as much fun as basketball, but that it could open up a new world for him at the University of Alabama, where he can still sprint around campus with some invisibility compared to the football and basketball jocks there.

* Kirani who?
  • Born September 1 1992 in Grenada

  • James’s talent emerged early, running the fastest 400m ever by a 14-year-old: 46.96 seconds.

  • He shattered the University of Alabama’s 400m record on his debut at his college.

  • His World Championships win in South Korea last month was only his fourth professional appearance.

  • At Crystal Palace last month, his first pro event, his 44.61secs was the year’s fastest until his World Championship 44.60secs.

  • He set a personal best this month, 44.36secs in Zurich, in beating experienced American LaShawn Merritt.

As for grandiose, pressure-filled claims about his future and the inevitable comparisons with Bolt, James just shrugs with admirable maturity: “I don’t get upset or excited by comparisons. Usain has traits that make him special and I have some that make me special, so I don’t really compare myself to him.”

He is happy to let others make the big claims for him. “He’s a freak of nature,” declares his coach at Alabama, Harvey Glance, the US’s former Olympic sprint relay champion who equalled the world record back in 1976.

“He’s not a cocky person and does not want the limelight particularly, but he is remarkably driven. It baffles me to this day, the maturity he shows and the discipline he has.

“It’s so easy to get cocky and out of shape, but he’s so focused on the cause, it makes me believe his potential is limitless.”

Michael Johnson’s world record of 43.18 seconds currently looks as if it belongs on another planet, but sooner or later it will be under

threat, says Glance. “Put it in perspective,” he says. “Michael was nearly 32 when he set the 400m world record; Kirani has just turned 19.”

The most exciting thing? You look at James, still coltish and ungainly, all long, flailing limbs, and can see the vast acres of improvement he could make, not just in physically filling out, but also in terms of sheer efficacy and efficiency of technique. After Daegu, he lowered his best to 44.36 in Zurich, hinting that soon he will be joining the elite nine who have broken the 44-second barrier.

“Kirani’s destined for greatness; an unbelievable athlete,” says Glance. “And, better still, he’s a phenomenal person.”

Back in Daegu, the man of the moment sat down in front of his computer screen and was hooked up to a live link-up with his old mates in Gouyave, who days later still seemed to be partying. The new hero, smiling coyly as he chatted, seemed just a mite embarrassed at his new-found celebrity. “I don’t think this will change me one little bit,” he remarked. “I’m comfortable in my own skin, I don’t need to be called the Usain Bolt of the 400 metres. I prefer the Kirani James of Grenada. That’s OK with me.”

I believe that James has sub20 200m ability as well. Though his inertial acceleration qualities may be somewhat unknown his 400m speed reserve seems to indicate a higher rate probability in the middle.

Not taking anything away from James, because it was an excellent performance for someone so young, however, when I saw his time of 44.60, I recalled that this was the same time Darren Clark ran 21 years ago to win the Commonwealth Games gold. It just goes to show how good Clark was!

Nice article, indeed!