GRN – Back from illness and injury, James looks ahead to 2020 with optimism

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Kirani James in the 400m at the Diamond League meeting in London (Getty Images)
Photo: Getty Images – Copyright

Standing on the start line at the 2017 Drake Relays, it felt like any other race for Kirani James.

It was his second race of the year and he was coming off the back of a silver medal-winning run at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

But as he crossed the line in Des Moines, he immediately knew something was not right. It had taken him 46.21 seconds to cover one lap of the track at Drake Stadium, his slowest time in a 400m final since he was 16 years old.

“I felt okay during warm-ups and though it was early season, I felt good going into the race,” he says. “But after the race, it took me a very long time to recover and I figured something was abnormal so I decided to get a check-up.

“After checking my symptoms and doing blood tests to find out if anything was out of the ordinary, the results showed that something was wrong with my thyroid.”

A specialist confirmed afterwards that he had Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid. James reasoned that his health came first and it was not a difficult decision to abort his season after doctors explained the risks involved if he continued without proper treatment. 

Initially he did not go public with his condition because it would have been too much of a distraction while he was trying to recover. Only close family members and his management team were aware of his situation and charged to manage the process accordingly.

James, aged 24 at the time, peak years for a sprinter, could only watch that year’s World Championships and Diamond League from afar.

Having earned four major medals, two of them gold, in the preceding six years, it was not what James had envisaged for the 2017 season.

From Guoyave to global glory

James grew up on the west coast of Grenada in a fishing village called Gouyave. Like most West Indian boys, he had a natural interest in sports, especially basketball and athletics. From an early age, he was convinced athletics provided the clearer career path.

He earned the nickname ‘Jaguar’ from the locals when they witnessed his precocious talent and fearless approach as a 14-year-old.

He sailed through the ranks over the next five years, creating history by becoming the first athlete to win the four coveted global titles in the 400m – world U18, U20, world championships and Olympic Games.

Several athletes have achieved that feat in other track and field disciplines, but James did it in the shortest timeframe, winning all four between 2009 and 2012.

James’ 2012 Olympic triumph proved historic on many levels. Not only did he become the first athlete from outside the USA to break 44 seconds for 400m, he also became the first Grenadian to win an Olympic medal in any sport.

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SOURCE: World Athletics

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