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Grenada’s James captures historic gold medal
By Alan Harris at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford
London – In sensational and historical style, Kirani James delivered Grenada’s first-ever Olympic medal in the British capital yesterday, storming to victory in the men’s 400 metres.
The reigning world champion crossed the line in 43.94 seconds, ahead of Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic and Lalonde Gordon of Trinidad & Tobago, who took the silver and bronze respectively.
“I can’t even explain, I’m so excited. This means so much for my country,” said James after setting a new national record. His time was also the fastest ever recorded on British soil.
The nineteen year-old had breezed through the early rounds of the event and was at ease before the final, joking with stadium officials and the crowd.
But he declared to the world that he meant business when his smile disappeared and he kissed his uniform before the start of the one lap event.
“He has this great ability to focus and his greatest asset is in his finish,” said Harvey Glance, a gold medal winner from the 1976 Games in Montreal and the former head coach at the University of Alabama, where James currently attends.
“That is key when you come to the Olympic Games, no matter if it’s the 100 metres or marathon. The finish is one of the most important aspects of the race and that’s what he has.”
James ran a controlled race before surging to the line with a powerful kick. It was on the home stretch that he opened daylight between himself and Santos, the junior world champion, who stopped the clock more than half a second back at 44.46 seconds.It was the Dominican Republic’s second medal of the London Games shortly after Felix Sanchez won the men’s 400 metre hurdles title.
Gordon of Trinidad & Tobago capped yet another stellar day for the Caribbean and took third with a personal best time of 44.52 seconds.
“There are a lot of good guys coming through,” added James. “I couldn’t take anyone for granted. I knew I had to give it my all.”
The event had earlier seen history created when South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius became the first Paralympic athlete to compete in a track & field event at the traditional Olympic Games. In a show of solidarity, James and Pistorius had earlier exchanged name tags after the South African was eliminated in the semifinals.
The United States had won the past seven Olympic titles in the men’s 400 metres, dating back to 1984, but none of the three American athletes entered had qualified for yesterday’s final. That included LaShawn Merritt, the defending Olympic champion, who pulled up with an injury in his opening heat. The American had finished second to James at last year’s world championships in Daegu.
The world record holder in the event remains American great, Michael Johnson, who clocked 43.18 seconds in 1999. Many, including Johnson, believes James has what it takes to challenge that record.
“I’m sure he will have the world record, my record, in his sights,” said Johnson. “He still has a lot of time to learn this event. He will only get faster.”