LONDON, England (AFP) — Newly crowned Olympic 400m champion Kirani James pledged yesterday to help bring through a new generation of Caribbean sprint talent after he won Grenada's first medal in Games history.
With athletes from the Caribbean asserting their authority over their sprint rivals from the United States at the London Olympics, James said he wanted to help other youngsters from the region enjoy the chances he had.
The 19-year-old who Michael Johnson has tipped to break his one-lap world record revealed that at school "there was one guy who was faster than me but he fell by the side.
"One of my jobs is to not let that happen again in my future," James said.
Ironically, he and his coach Harvey Glance believe the key to developing the Caribbean sprint machine is to enroll promising youngsters in US universities where the facilities are superior to most tracks they will find at home.
James himself is a student at the University of Alabama, where he was recruited by Glance, who won a gold medal as part of the US sprint relay quartet at the 1976 Montreal Games.
Glance says the Caribbean is making up for lost time — as his young charge proved by breaking the 28-year American stranglehold on the 400m at the Olympics with his storming 43.94sec run for the gold medal on Monday.
"They are somewhat behind in some of the things that we have but they are fast catching up because of performances like Bolt and Kirani and people like that who have set the stage for small countries," Glance said.
"With that they are going to get better through the years because people are going to put more into their country."
James, who was just 18 when he won the world title last year, admits that he was inspired by double 100m Olympic champion Usain Bolt and his fellow Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell early in his career.
"There are a lot of guys who paved the way for us. We had Asafa, and Bolt is doing his thing now," he said.
Both Bolt and Powell bucked the trend by insisting on remaining in Jamaica, where a formidable training group has developed around them.
But the coach and his young charge seem delighted with the decision they made to link up, which came after Glance heard of a remarkable talent who burst on to the scene aged 14 when he scorched to an age-group world record of 46.96sec.
They clearly have a close relationship. "Kirani is more than an athlete to me, he is a like a son," said Glance. "Neither of us feel like we made a mistake."