Gold for Grenada as Kirani James wins 400m
Nineteen-year-old stamps his name on history by grabbing his country’s first-ever Olympic medal.
LONDON, England, Wednesday August 08, 2012 – Jubilation gripped Grenada on Monday as 19-year-old Kirani James swept past the 400 metre finish line in London and stamped his name on history’s page as the first-ever Grenadian to grab Olympic gold.
Grenada Prime Minister Tillman Thomas, by no means immune to the prevailing euphoria, declared a national holiday in celebration of what he referred to as “a great achievement” and “an inspiration”, adding “the sporting landscape in Grenada will never be the same again”.
Meanwhile, back in London, the now celebrated teenager’s thoughts turned to his homeland where he had no doubt that in the small fishing community of Gouyave the people were partying.
"Probably crazy at home," said James, a two-time NCAA champion at Alabama. "I don't think any words can describe the celebration out there. This is a huge step ... going out there and putting us on the map."
James, who emerged as the world champion last year, planted his country’s name firmly on the map by winning on the world’s biggest stage Monday night, running the 400 meters in 43.94 seconds.
Before this race, an Olympic gold medal in the event was pretty much in the bag for the United States, which had won the past seven titles, dating to 1984. But none of the three American entrants qualified for Monday's final, including 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt, who pulled up with a hamstring injury in his opening heat and was sent home for treatment.
For years, James has been living in the shadow of Merritt. Even when James beat him last summer at the world championships, the win came with a caveat: Merritt wasn't at his best because he was just coming off a doping suspension.
With Merritt on the sideline at the Olympics, the long-anticipated showdown never happened and James had no one to really push him except the clock.
He beat his nearest competitor, Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic, by 0.52 seconds. Lalonde Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago got the bronze, making a clean sweep for the Caribbean.
But was the Grenadian teenager disappointed that Merritt wasn't in the field?
"Kirani respects the heck out of LaShawn. Unfortunately, when you get to the games like this, these are the kinds of things that happen," said Harvey Glance, who coaches James. "Would Kirani have liked to have competed against him? I'm sure he would, because he's a competitor. Did it make the job a little easier? Of course it did.”
Merritt aside, James was satisfied with his performance. "This win says I'm on the right track," he said.
That could include capturing more titles and maybe even one day breaking Michael Johnson's 400-metre record of 43.18 seconds. But that's a matter for another time, when he's no longer celebrating the victory that gave Grenada its first medal.
Besides picking up the gold, James came out of the competition with a cherished souvenir.
Shortly after winning his heat Sunday, James approached double-amputee Oscar Pistorius -- who didn't advance to the final -- and asked to trade bibs.
The South African sprinter known as "Blade Runner" is inspirational to James. Pistorius runs on carbon fibre blades.
"Just spur of the moment," James said. "Oscar should be a huge inspiration for everybody, whether you're a track athlete or a normal person. You can be somebody no matter what kind of disability you have.
"Being out there and competing against Oscar is a huge honour for me. He's a great guy, very down to earth. I'm happy to be here and compete against Oscar."