Kirani James

Athlete Profile

    Grenada Grenada
    01 SEP 1992
Kirani James wins his 400m semi-final at the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 (Getty Images)

Personal Best - Outdoor

Performance Wind Place Date
200 Metres 20.41 +1.1 El Paso, TX 16 APR 2011
400 Metres 43.74 Lausanne (Pontaise) 03 JUL 2014

Personal Best - Indoor

Performance Wind Place Date
200 Metres 20.58 Albuquerque, NM 21 JAN 2011
400 Metres 44.80 Fayetteville, AR 27 FEB 2011

Progression - Outdoor

200 Metres

Performance Wind Place Date
2014 20.63 -1.2 Tokyo 11 MAY
2011 20.41 +1.1 El Paso, TX 16 APR
2010 20.76 +0.8 George Town 05 APR
2009 21.05 -0.9 Bressanone 12 JUL
2008 21.38 +0.2 Basseterre 24 MAR

400 Metres

Performance Place Date
2017 45.44 St. George's (National Stadium) 08 APR
2016 43.76 Rio de Janeiro (Estádio Olímpico) 14 AUG
2015 43.78 Beijing (National Stadium) 26 AUG
2014 43.74 Lausanne (Pontaise) 03 JUL
2013 43.96 Paris Saint-Denis (Stade de France) 06 JUL
2012 43.94 London (Olympic Stadium) 06 AUG
2011 44.36 Zürich (Letzigrund) 08 SEP
2010 45.01 Knoxville, TN 16 MAY
2009 45.24 Bressanone 10 JUL
2008 45.70 Bydgoszcz (Zdzislaw Krzyszkowiak) 10 JUL
2007 46.96 Ostrava 13 JUL

Progression - Indoor

200 Metres

Performance Wind Place Date
2011 20.58 Albuquerque, NM 21 JAN
2010 20.94 College Station, TX 13 FEB

400 Metres

Performance Place Date
2012 45.19 Fayetteville (Randall Tyson TC), AR 11 FEB
2011 44.80 Fayetteville, AR 27 FEB
2010 45.24 Fayetteville (Randall Tyson TC), AR 28 FEB

Honours - 200 Metres

Rank Mark Wind Place Date
6th IAAF World Youth Championships 1 21.05 -0.9 Bressanone 12 JUL 2009

Honours - 400 Metres

Rank Mark Wind Place Date
The XXXI Olympic Games 2 43.76 Rio de Janeiro (Estádio Olímpico) 14 AUG 2016
15th IAAF World Championships 3 43.78 Beijing (National Stadium) 26 AUG 2015
14th IAAF World Championships 7 44.99 Moskva (Luzhniki) 13 AUG 2013
The XXX Olympic Games 1 43.94 London (Olympic Stadium) 06 AUG 2012
IAAF World Indoor Championships 2012 6 46.21 Istanbul (Ataköy Arena) 10 MAR 2012
13th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 1 44.60 Daegu (DS) 30 AUG 2011
13th IAAF World Junior Championships 1 45.89 Moncton (Moncton Stadium) 22 JUL 2010
6th IAAF World Youth Championships 1 45.24 Bressanone 10 JUL 2009
12th IAAF World Junior Championships 2 45.70 Bydgoszcz (Zdzislaw Krzyszkowiak) 10 JUL 2008
5th IAAF World Youth Championships 2 46.96 Ostrava 13 JUL 2007

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Updated 5 August 2016

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”.

Six years ago, the comparison might have seemed extreme. But after the 2011 IAAF 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 23 now, and boasts a personal best of 43.74 seconds!

James’ first sub-44 run was 43.94. He produced that scorcher in 2012, the Grenadian whipping his rivals at the London Olympics. With the golden run, he became the first non-American in history to join the sub-44 club.

Before that historic race, on August 6, 2012, Grenada, a small Caribbean island with a population of just 104,000, had not yet produced an Olympic medallist. But thanks to Kirani Zeno James, the key word in the preceding sentence is yet.

Not only did James become his country’s first Olympic medallist. It took him just 43.94 seconds to also become Grenada’s first Olympic champion.

Gold on the world’s biggest sporting stage is something James had thought about. It was a vision, he had said, 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.”

That one day arrived in August 2012, James sending his compatriots into a wild frenzy with his dominant run in the Olympic one-lap final.

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 I 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 based 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 23-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.

Before he came out of his teens, James already had 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.”

James is threatening to become one of the most dominant 400 runners in history. In March, 2012, however, he was forced to deal with the disappointment of defeat 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 2008 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 again clashed with Merritt. 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).

But by the time he faced the starter in the Olympic one-lap championship race, James was in the form of his life, the Grenadian striking gold in emphatic fashion. Merritt was not in the field in the Olympic final. The injured American was a non-finisher in his first round heat.

But Merritt was back on track in 2013. He handed the Grenadian his only defeat, ahead of the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Russia, clocking 44.32 to win at the Prefontaine Classic, in Oregon, USA. James was forced to settle for second spot, in 44.39.

The highpoint for James as he prepared to defend his global crown came at the Meeting Areva IAAF Diamond League meet, in Paris, France, where he topped the field in 43.96 seconds, firmly establishing himself as the Moscow favourite.

The favourite’s tag, however, is not one that James readily accepted.

“I don’t think it’s really a target (on my back). Every year, everybody has a clean slate. At least that’s how I see it. I don’t see myself as the favourite or anything else, but just one of the guys that’s trying to win another championship and perform well.

“(The 43.96) just indicates that I’m in great form, I’m in great shape. It doesn’t guarantee anything. I still have to work hard and not take anything for granted. It shows that I’m on the right track in terms of having a good performance this World Championships.”

James was right. The 43.96 seconds clocking was no guarantee of a successful defence of his world title. The Grenadian track star was a mere shadow of himself in the final stages of the Moscow 2013 one-lap final, slipping from second to seventh on the home straight. He clocked 44.99 seconds to finish way behind Merritt, the winner in a personal best 43.74.

James regained his championship touch in 2014, clocking 44.24 seconds in Glasgow, Scotland to capture the Commonwealth Games title.

It was a dominant 2014 season for James. The reigning Olympic champ produced his 43.74 PR (personal record) at the Athletissima IAAF Diamond League meet, in Switzerland. And he only tasted defeat in his pet event once for the entire year, finishing second to Merritt in April in his 400 opener.

But 2015 presented a new challenge.

After winning his first five 400s, James was forced to settle for the runner-up spot at the Meeting Areva IAAF Diamond League meet in Paris, France, behind Wayde van Niekerk, the South African sensation getting home in a personal best 43.96 seconds.

The Paris race proved to be a preview of the World Championship final, in Beijing, China, where James bagged bronze in 43.78 seconds. Van Niekerk was golden in 43.48, with silver going to Merritt (43.65).

James, van Niekerk and Merritt have all been in fine form this season, setting the stage for what promises to be a one-lap sizzler at the 2016 Rio Games.

Personal Bests

200: 20.41A NR, NJR (2011)
400: 43.74 AR (2014)

Yearly Progression

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/43.94; 2013:43.96; 2014: 20.63/43.74; 2015: 43.78; 2016: 44.08

Career Highlights

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
2012   6th       (400)        World Indoor Championships (Turkey)                 46.21               
2012   1st       (400)       Olympic Games (London)                                     43.94
2013   7th       (400)       World Championships (Moscow)                            44.99
2014   1st        (400)       Commonwealth Games (Glasgow)                        44.24
2015   3rd       (400)      World Championships (Beijing)                              43.78

* CAC = Central American & Caribbean

Prepared by Kwame Laurence for the IAAF “Focus on Athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2010-2016