Four years have passed since Kirani James, a teenager hailing from the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada, stormed to victory in the men’s 400m final at the London Olympics. It was a historic day for Grenada, with the 19-year-old becoming the country’s first ever Olympic medallist in any sport.
James also became the first non-American to record a time below the 44-second mark. It marked a meteoric rise to stardom for the boy from the humble fishing town of Gouyave. Now, Grenada’s golden boy has set his sights on reclaiming his crown at Rio.
Having won every major title there is to win, it’s hard to believe James is still only 23. His stellar career has taken him a long way from his childhood home in Grenada, but the passion, pride, work ethic and humble nature of his country is visible in every step.
What Kirani James means to Grenada
In an interview with CNN, Kirani James said of his victory: “Winning gold at the Olympics was a very historic moment for my country and for myself. Just going into those games, all I wanted to do was perform well, to represent my country well. It filled me with pride to compete with our national colours on. It’s something that I will cherish everyday of my life.”
Most Grenadians share the same sentiment. Following the London Olympics, thousand of Grenadians lined the streets to give James a heroes welcome home. For many natives, his victory was not just a great sporting achievement, it was a national event that put their country on the world map.
With a population of just 110,000, Grenada is tiny tri-island idyll located in the southern edge of the Caribbean Sea. It’s quite a literally a drop of the ocean, but Kirani James is making sure everyone has heard of the “Spice Island”.
Olympic success has boosted Grenada’s tourism industry
The sportsmanship and performance of a nation’s athletes can generate interest and tourism growth in a country. Take the much-publicised Jamaican bobsled team of the 1988 Winter Olympics. Their popularity even resulted in a Hollywood movie. The Jamaicans have continued to benefit from the exploits of their athletes, using the colourful personality of global superstar Usain Bolt to leverage their sports tourism industry.
The refreshing thing about James is his humility. Unlike Bolt, who unleashed his trademark pose, the first thing James did after crossing the finish line to Olympic glory was shake hands with each of his competitors. His warm and friendly spirit became reflective not just of himself, but of all Grenadians, increasing the appeal of the island as a desirable holiday destination.
Peter David, Grenada’s tourism minister at the time, described James as a golden opportunity for sports and tourism in Grenada, claiming there was no price that could be put on his victory.
Tourism has certainly surged in the country, taking more and more shares of the market for Caribbean travel. Visitor arrivals have consistently increased since 2012 and show no signs of slowing – latest figures suggest visitor arrivals have increased by 10.3% within the past six months.
The influx of tourists has been a welcome source of income for the emerging Grenadian economy. It had previously relied on exports of nutmeg, cocoa beans, fish, and wheat flours, but the expansion of its tourism sector has seen focus shift from agriculture to the provision of services.
The future of athletics in Grenada
Kirani James is the undoubted poster boy of Grenadian athletics, but the government will be hoping more sporting talents can be nurtured on the island.
They might not have to wait too long. James will keeping a close eye on fellow Grenadian sprinter Bralon Taplin in Rio. The pair will battle against each other in the 400m event. After running a world-leading 45.20 during the indoor season, Taplin currently ranks fifth in the world after clocking 44.41 in Arizona in April.
Aspiring athletes inspired by Kirani James’s legacy will also be encouraged by the opening of a brand new athletics stadium. The $40 million 8,000-seat facility was built to replace the original stadium which was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The stadium was opened by James himself and will serve as the venue for a number of upcoming national and international sporting events.
Whether recent investment in sports facilities inspires a new generation of Grenadian sports superstars remains to be seen. One thing that is for sure, is that all eyes will be on Kirani James in Rio.