- 24 August, 2014
- by Grenada Spot
World champion at 18. Olympic gold at 19. The Commonwealth title this year, at 21. Yet when you ask other athletes about Kirani James, one word is repeated as if on loop: humble. “My philosophy is just to compete to my best of my abilities and run fast,” he says in a soft Grenadian singsong accent. “As long as that happens, I will keep improving. That’s the goal.”
James, already the greatest 400m runner of his generation, recently set a personal best of 43.74sec and is becoming used to questions about when he might undercut Michael Johnson’s 15-year-old world record of 43.18. His flat-batted replies suggest he would be natural fit for a nightwatchman’s job at Grenada’s national cricket stadium. But the pair do speak, most recently after James’s gold medal in Glasgow, won in 44.24sec, although the subject of Johnson’s record has never been broached.
“We talk about how I am progressing, or what I am doing in school,” he says. “He has never given me any tips, he respects my coach enough not to do that.”
Some English sprinters were annoyed Johnson was critical of them at the Commonwealth Games. “He is a different person in the flesh,” James says. “I see a different Michael Johnson. Everybody has their style of commentating, and you can’t please everyone.”
While Jamaica’s athletes struggled to acclimatise to Glasgow’s cuisine and climate, James immersed himself in the Games experience, visiting the opening and closing ceremony. “I really enjoyed it, the meet was really well put on,” he says. “The fans were great, too, filling the stadium from the morning through to the last event. It showed how enthusiastic and excited they are about the sport.”
And the food in the athletes’ village? A pause. “I know some Jamaicans thought it wasn’t spicy enough but I enjoyed it,” he says. “I didn’t have any concerns. Everyone has their preferences, but it was spicy enough for me.”
James competes in the Sainbury’s Grand Prix in Birmingham on Sunday against a stacked field, that includes seven of the 11 fastest men over 400m this year. The African champion, Isaac Makwala, who has run 44.01sec this season is likely to be his main rival, but the Britons Martyn Rooney and Matthew Hudson-Smith will also be chasing James as well as personal bests.