Despite showing some raw potential over 200m in the past, the world and Olympic 400m champion says his goal is to remain consistent in the one-lap event over the next few years
Back in his native Grenada, Kirani James is hot property as the country’s first global sporting superstar. But in the States, where AW’s David Cox spoke to the world and Olympic 400m champion (at the University of Alabama to be precise), he’s able to keep himself to himself and that suits James, whose down-to-earth attitude is a stark contrast to his trash-talking American rivals in the one-lap dash.
“I went back home for my birthday in September so I spent some time with family and friends and you know, it was very crazy!” James laughs, shaking his head. “Everyone wanted to see me and congratulate me. Everyone was happy, exuberant. I mean it was a very unique feeling just seeing everyone back home celebrating.
“It was my first Olympics so I can’t really compare it to anything else, but the atmosphere throughout that fortnight was crazy, you know. When you see 80,000 people in the stadium at 8 o’clock in the morning, you know that people are really interested in our sport and really passionate to come and support us. It was quite unique.”
James’ success in the past two years has seen his countrymen scurrying to bestow greater and greater accolades. After winning in Daegu last year, a street in the capital city of St George’s was named after him and now rumour has it that a new stadium will be constructed in his honour.
“I don’t think anything’s official yet or anything like that, but I think the construction of the stadium’s going to start in February so we’ll see what happens,” he says. “The chance of having a stadium named after me is very humbling.”
Until you visit Grenada, it’s impossible to appreciate how iconic a figure the 20-year-old has become. Each of James’ races at London 2012 were beamed across the tiny Caribbean island with big screens set up in every park and public place.
But knowing that the entire nation was fixated on his every move during the Games, did that not add to the pressure, especially when it came to the final?
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” James says flatly. “My main thing was just that I wanted to represent my country and make everyone proud. It wasn’t about winning or losing. As long as I’m out there competing and performing to the best of my ability, they’ll be proud so there was no pressure at all.
“I just concentrated on my race strategy and tried not think too much or make too much of the race. It’s just 400 metres you know, it’s important not to get too excited or too anxious about it.”
James became the first non-American to go sub-44 with his 43.94 gold medal run in London and for the neutral fan, the breathtaking aspect of his performance was not just the time but the fact he ran it despite still having many obvious flaws in his technique. Working as a pundit for the BBC, four time Olympic champion Michael Johnson was in no doubt that his world record of 43.18 could soon be under threat.
“I don’t really think about world records or anything like that,” James said. “I just think about improving my times at each and every meet. With the world record, if I happen to break it one day then it’s meant to happen, if I don’t then I guess it’s just not meant to be.
“So you know, I don’t think about it that way but for him to say something like that, to me it’s very humbling and it shows that I’m on the right track to do some great things but it doesn’t guarantee anything. I still have to work for it.”
James has shown some raw potential over 200m in the past, winning gold at the 2009 World Youth Championships and clocking 20.41 in an early-season meet last year. One suspects that if he gave the event a little more attention he could potentially move into medal contention, but James is quick to dismiss any suggestions of doubling up.
“I won’t run the 200m at major events. I’ll probably do it at a couple of meets just to get some work in on something, but I’ve always felt the 200m is a very big field and me just walking into that, I think it would be a disrespect to guys who are 200m specialists. If it happens in the future then it happens, but for now I’ll just focus on the 400m.
“My goals for the next few years are just to remain consistent, you know. There is no perfect 400m – you can always get better and improve something. I just want to improve on everything, my technique, my conditioning, my character as a person – everything that comes into play to be a successful track and field athlete.
“I’m just going try not to take anything for granted and just try to be myself because this sport is all about longevity and trying to make sure your name’s a household name. And to do that I want to be consistent over the next, whether it’s 10, 15, 20 years, and just try to be on top as much as possible.
“I just try to take it day by day. When I was younger (James began running at his local athletics club at age 12), I wasn’t thinking about trying to be a professional athlete. I was just focusing on being the best I can, the best person I can possibly be. You have to take your chances and right now everything is working out.”