Updated 01 August 2012
Kirani JAMES, Grenada (200m/400m)
Born: 1 September 1992, St George’s, Grenada
Lives: Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA
Coach: Harvey Glance
Manager: Renaldo Nehemiah
Kirani James is considered by many to be the “new Usain Bolt”.
One year ago, the comparison with the triple Olympic champion might have seemed extreme. But after the 2011 World Championships, in Daegu, Korea, no one would be brave enough to bet against James becoming an all-time great.
Two days before his 19th birthday, he struck gold in the men’s 400 metres in Daegu, running from behind to dethrone American LaShawn Merritt.
"It's a great feeling," James said, after the race. "Just being here and making everyone proud to be a Grenadian."
His compatriots were certainly proud. Throughout the country, there were celebrations, some Grenadians even taking to the streets for a Carnival-style jump-up in recognition of global gold.
Prime Minister Tillman Thomas joined the celebrations by declaring a National Colours Day to mark the crowning of Grenada’s first ever champion at the outdoor Worlds.
In just 44.60 seconds, James had put his country on the map. The writing, though, was on the wall long before his Daegu heroics.
The world took notice when, at 16, Bolt clocked 45.35 seconds in the 400 metres. At the same age, in 2009, James completed the one-lap trip in 45.24!
He’s 19 now, and boasts a personal best of 44.36 seconds!
James produced the scorcher last September, the Grenadian teen whipping his rivals at the Weltklasse Zurich Samsung Diamond League meet, in Switzerland.
Kirani James is undoubtedly the real deal. The Grenada track star, however, is uncomfortable with comparisons.
“Usain Bolt and Michael Johnson are special in their own way…I am [too], and so are all the athletes around the world.”
James started taking athletics seriously when he joined SpeedZone, in Grenada. His coach at the club was Albert Joseph.
At the 2006 Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) Games, in St Lucia, 13-year-old James represented Grenada in the under-15 age-group.
“I won the 400 metres and came second in the 200 metres. I realised that I could compete with the powerhouses like Jamaica and Trinidad [and Tobago]. I realised it was something special.”
James is grateful for the encouragement he received early on.
“My family, my coach, people close to me, the community and others that know a lot about the history of track and field.”
James is a student at the University of Alabama, in the United States, where he is coached by American Harvey Glance, a sprint relay gold medallist at the 1976 Olympic Games and 1987 World Championships.
James took the American collegiate circuit by storm in 2010, capping off a superb freshman season by winning the NCAA 400 metres title. In 2011, he successfully defended his crown in his last outing as a collegiate athlete. Afterwards, James turned pro.
But though he is one of the brightest young stars in athletics, the 19-year-old from the fishing village of Gouyave, in St John’s, Grenada remains grounded, acknowledging God’s role in blessing him with “this talent”.
“Just trying to make the best of the situation and talent that I have, and not let it go to waste.
"I was born in St. George's because that's where the only hospital in the country was, but I grew up in the community of Gouyave, St. John's. Being from a village where I get so much support from everybody,” James continues, “knowing that you can't let them down…that’s enough inspiration to drive me.”
Athletics is not the only sport in which James has an interest.
“My whole family played basketball, a sport that my dad (Dorrani Marshall) and brother play very seriously. I grew up playing basketball and a bit of soccer, but then I figured out that track and field was the best choice for me.”
And what a good choice it was! At the 2009 World Youth Championships, in Bressanone, Italy James won the 200 metres and 400 metres titles. He followed up with gold in the 400 metres at the 2010 World Junior Championships, in Moncton, Canada, improving on the silver he had earned at the 2008 World Juniors meet, in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
Not yet out of his teens, James already has many successes to list on his athletics resume, including the Trinity of one-lap world titles – youth, junior and senior.
But what about disappointments?
“I don't really have one. Even if I did I don't see it like that for long, but as a stepping stone to improvement.”
At meets, James is not just a competitor. He’s a fan as well.
“First, I have to complete the task at hand, take care of what’s priority, but after I'm done I can say I'm a track fanatic.”
James spends his free time “watching soccer, hanging out with friends, playing a bit of soccer, basketball, video games.”
Grenada, a small Caribbean island with a population of just 104,000, has not yet produced an Olympic medallist. But thanks to the emergence of Kirani Zeno James, the key word in the preceding sentence is yet.
Of course, there are no guarantees in sport, but all indicators are pointing towards a trip to an Olympic rostrum for the Grenadian phenom.
Olympic gold is something James has thought about. It’s a vision, he says, made possible by a two-time World indoor 400 metres champion.
“It will be a great honour [to earn Olympic gold], but I have to give credit to Mr Alleyne Francique for putting us on the map, setting the trend and giving us Grenadian athletes hope and inspiration that we can compete with the best in the world, no matter how small a country we are, and achieve that feat one day.”
Olympic gold at the 2012 London Games is definitely within the grasp of Grenada’s most famous teenager.
In fact, his performances during the 2012 indoor season, coupled with his fine display of championship running in Daegu, made James the early favourite for London honours.
He clocked 45.96 seconds in his opener at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, in Boston, USA, and followed up with an impressive 45.19 run at the USATF Classic in Arkansas, USA.
Though James crossed the Atlantic for his next outing, the result was no different – victory for the young Grenadian at the XL Galan meet in Stockholm, Sweden in 45.52 seconds.
There was a hiccup, though, at the World Indoor Championships, in Istanbul, Turkey. Drawn in lane one in the final, James finished sixth in 46.21 seconds, the title going to Costa Rican Nery Brenes (45.11).
James bounced back with a fast outdoor opener, clocking 44.72 for victory at the Colorful Daegu meeting. It was a homecoming of sorts for the young Grenadian, the triumph coming on the 2011 World Championship track.
At the Prefontaine Classic, in Oregon, USA, James was disqualified for a false start, but ran under protest. He clocked 44.97 to finish second to Olympic champion Merritt (44.91). However, the disqualification stood and James’ placing and time were struck from the records.
James returned to winners’ row at the Aviva London Grand Prix, getting home in 44.85 seconds.
And in his final Olympic warm-up, at the Herculis 2012 meet, in Monaco, he clashed with Merritt for the second time this season. However, track and field fans did not get the Olympic preview they were hoping for, Merritt pulling up with a cramp in his left hamstring.
The final result in Monaco left the fans with even more unanswered questions, ahead of the London Games, James clocking 44.76 to finish second to Belgium’s Jonathan Borlee (44.74).
While James is not the only contender for Merritt’s Olympic title, the reigning world champion seems best equipped to challenge the American for the top spot.
200: 20.41A (2011)
400: 44.36 (2011)
200/400: 2007: 22.10, 21.81w/46.96; 2008: 21.38/45.70; 2009: 21.05/45.24; 2010: 20.76/45.01; 2011: 20.41A/44.36; 2012: 45.19i/44.72
2007 1st (400) Carifta Games U17 (Providenciales) 47.86
2007 2nd (400) World Youth Championships (Ostrava) 46.96
2008 1st (200) Carifta Games U17 (Basseterre) 21.38
2008 1st (400) Carifta Games U17 (Basseterre) 47.87
2008 2nd (400) World Junior Championships (Bydgoszcz) 45.70
2008 1st (400) Commonwealth Youth Games U18 (Pune) 46.66
2009 1st (400) Carifta Games U20 (Vieux-Fort) 45.45
2009 1st (200) World Youth Championships (Bressanone) 21.05
2009 1st (400) World Youth Championships (Bressanone) 45.24
2009 1st (400) Pan Am Junior Championships (Port-of-Spain) 45.43
2009 5th (4x400) Pan Am Junior Championships (Port-of-Spain) 3:11.91
2010 1st (200) Carifta Games U20 (George Town) 20.76
2010 1st (400) Carifta Games U20 (George Town) 45.02
2010 1st (400) World Junior Championships (Moncton) 45.89
2011 1st (200) Pan Am Junior Championships (Florida) 20.53w
2011 5th (4x400) CAC* Championships (Mayaguez) 3:04.27
2011 1st (400) World Championships (Daegu) 44.60
* CAC = Central American & Caribbean
Prepared by Kwame Laurence for the IAAF “Focus on Athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2010-2012