Teenager Kirani James’s biggest improvement has had to come off the track since a shock 400 metres world title last year propelled him into the limelight, his coach Harvey Glance said today.
With only a handful of professional races to his name James’s victory in Daegu, South Korea last August, made him the third youngest world champion and has put the athlete nicknamed ‘The Jaguar’ among the big boys for the one-lap showdown at London’s Olympic Games.
“He’s done a lot off the track, that’s where he’s improved the most because he had to balance a lot since winning the world championships,” Glance said on the outskirts of the athlete’s village in Stratford, East London.
The victory, a first senior global medal in track and field for Grenada, made the then 18-year-old instantly recognizable back home, and others have taken notice too.
In between a return to school work, endorsements and major sponsorship have come calling, as did a worldwide tour of embassies on behalf of his nation.
”We have had to balance all that in a three month period before we got back to training,” Glance, a former Olympic sprint relay champion, said.
While his fame has spread in the athletics world, it had not quite reached fans in Stratford, with some asking who the lanky 19-year-old in the media scrum was. James obliged by flipping his ID badge round the right way as the wind played havoc.
This season James has not yet hit the heights of last year, finishing last in the world indoor championships final and managing the ninth fastest time on the world list.
James, though, said his main focus had always been London.
“We have everything in order, everything set and I am ready to run here,” James, who will be up against this year’s fastest man – American LaShawn Merritt – in London, said.
Also running the 400 will be South Africa’s double amputee Oscar Pistorius – someone James called an inspirational figure.
“He’s done a phenomenal job. It takes a lot of courage for him to do what he does, so he is an inspiration to everybody, even to me. What he is doing, words can’t describe it,” he said.
With the world’s fastest man Usain “The Lightning” Bolt and his Jamaican compatriot Yohan “The Beast” Blake both equipped with fancy nicknames, Kirani “The Jaguar” James is no different.
“I was actually given the name by one of my mentors who used to run the 100 on the islands back in the eighties. He was really good, that was his nickname so he just kind of bestowed that upon me,” he said, smiling. (Reuters)