Olympics: Grenada’s Kirani James makes history
By Dialogo August 07, 2012
LONDON – Kirani James became the first Grenadan to win Olympic gold when he won the 400-meter dash in a blistering 43.94 seconds, just a little slower than the world record of 43.18 seconds set by American Michael Johnson in 1999.
“Michael’s been a huge thing for our sport and our event, and obviously everybody wants to reach that level at some point,” James told reporters. “But I’m just focused on trying to be the best I can be and don’t try to be like Michael. If I try to be like him, every time I fail it’s going to be a disappointment for me and a disappointment to everybody. I just try to be me.”
James, 19, became the first non-American to win the event since 1980, and his victory set off a raucous celebration in the Caribbean nation as Grenada, with a population of 109,000, became the smallest nation ever to win Olympic gold.
“The whole place is going crazy right now,” James said. “I can’t explain. I’m so excited.”
Luguelín Santos of the Dominican Republic took the silver in 44.46 and Trinidad and Tobago’s Lalonde Gordon won the bronze in at 44.52.
But even before the race, James already was a champion in the eyes of most fans for his actions after his semifinal heat on Aug. 5.
The teenager didn’t take a victory lap or jump into the stands after finishing first. Instead, James went to South African runner Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee competing on carbon fiber prosthetic legs, and swapped bib numbers with him. Pistorius failed to post a good enough time to qualify for the final race, but the gesture by James demonstrated an incredible amount of respect for the ground-breaking double-amputee.
“My hat’s off to him, just coming out here and competing,” James told reporters. “I just see him as another athlete, another competitor. What's more important is I see him as another person. He’s someone I admire and respect.”
And it’s not hard to see why James values the example set by Pistorius. James grew up in the fishing community of Gouyve where his father was a laborer. James didn’t get a way out until 2007 when a silver medal at the Youth World Championships earned him an athletic scholarship to the University of Alabama.
“When you are young you don’t have anything to lose, but you have so much to gain,” James told reporters.