Kirani James’ many junior successes left little doubt that he was heading for a notable track and field career. The only surprise was how quickly he emerged at the top of the 400-meter world, as he captured his first major professional championship two days short of his 19th birthday. James went on to become Grenada’s first-ever Olympic medalist in 2012.
James was an avid basketball player and also enjoyed soccer as a youth on the island nation of Grenada. But accomplishments such as his performance in the 2006 Caribbean Union of Teachers Games – in which the 13-year-old James won the 400 and placed second in the 200 while running against 15-year-olds from neighboring nations – convinced him that his future was on the track. James ran with Grenada’s SpeedZone club under coach Albert Joseph.
In 2009, James headed north to attend the University of Alabama, where he was coached by American Olympic gold medalist Harvey Glance. James earned NCAA outdoor 400-meter championships in both his college seasons, in 2010 and 2011, and placed second in the indoor 400 as a freshman. An on-track collision cost him a chance to win the indoor title in his sophomore season.
James’ junior career was about as good as it gets. He set the world 400-meter record for a 14-year-old at the World Youth Championships, then broke the world 15-year-old record at the same event the following year. James set an under-20 meet record for the 400 in the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) Games in 2009, runing 45.45 to beat the 6-year-old mark set by Usain Bolt. James won the 200-400 double in the 2009 World Youth Championships – the first runner ever to do so – and took the 400-meter gold at the 2010 World Junior Championships. James earned three CARIFTA Games titles in the 400 and one in the 200.
James served notice that he was a world contender in 2011 by running a then-world-leading 44.61 at the London Grand Prix, shortly before the World Championships. He then tracked down defending World champion LaShawn Merritt on the home straight to win the Daegu final in 44.60 seconds. James went on to win the 2011 Diamond League 400-meter championship. He finished a disappointing sixth in the 2012 World Indoor Championships, but he dominated the 400 at the London Olympics, running a personal best 43.94 to take the gold.
- Height: 6 feet, 2 inches
- Weight: 170 pounds
- Birth date: September 1, 1992
- Hometown: Gouyave, Grenada
- Personal best: 43.94 (400 meters); 20.41 (200 meters)