Kirani James (R) greeted at an airport reception
ST GEORGE’S, Grenada -- Kirani James was as relaxed in mode of dress as in speech as Grenada’s greatest sporting hero returned home Thursday evening. It was his first home visit since demolishing a field of seven other competitors on August 6 to win gold in the 400 meters at the Olympics in London, England.
Like greats such as cricket’s Sobers; basketball’s Kobe and LeBron; boxing’s Ali; tennis’s Venus and Serena; he, too, is referred to simply by a single official name – Kirani. And, like most Grenadians, he has a nickname that is fashioned after his grace and speed – “Jaguar”.
James – dressed casually in black jeans, black shirt beneath an official Grenada Olympic Committee (GOC) green blazer – was greeted by an official party in St George’s after his arrival at Maurice Bishop International Airport (MBIA) on a chartered flight from Barbados. He was accorded an official welcoming ceremony in Barbados before his departure for Grenada.
“It's very humbling to see everybody here. I'm just want it to be a weekend of celebration and nothing else,” James said in brief remarks at a cocktail at a reception lounge at MBIA that included dancing and live music from the Royal Grenada Police Force Band, and a contingent from Republic Bank Angel Harps Steel Orchestra.
He was welcomed by Sports Minister Patrick Simmons and showered with praise for his humility and accomplishments by Prime Minister Tillman Thomas and Governor General, Sir Carlyle Glean.
The welcoming party for the Olympian also included his mother, Annie James; father, Jurani Marshall; other relatives from his hometown of Gouyave, St John; politicians of both major parties including opposition leader Keith Mitchell; members of the diplomatic corps; GOC officials; and Olympic athlete Kurt Felix.
Injury forced Felix, who is based in the United States, to withdraw from the decathlon on the second and final day of the event.
James, who captured the 400 at the World Championships in South Korea in 2011, added the Olympic gold in London by winning in 43.94 seconds.
It was historic – Grenada’s first Olympic medal. The first Olympic gold won, as well, by an athlete from the sub-regional Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.
James’ return to the country, Prime Minister Thomas said, was a “very proud moment for all of us as Grenadians.”
The Governor General, who himself is from St John, said the night was a celebration of history, adding that “out of humble origins, great things can come.”
Screams of joy echoed across the South St George area when James emerged from inside MBIA, offering hugs and handshakes to fans who had gathered outside the airport, waiting for hours to see the Grenadian superstar athlete.
The Grenada weekend celebrations will include an island-wide motorcade and then a rally at the National Stadium on Saturday, which is James’ 20th birthday.
A youth motivational program in James’ name will be launched Sunday in the village of Gun Battle, Gouyave, where the Olympic champion and 2011 Grenada Sportsman of the Year was born.
He leaves Grenada Monday for the US to continue his undergraduate studies in business at the University of Alabama.
James built a reputation as a champion at the CARIFTA, Commonwealth Youth and World Junior Games. The victory in London in August further catapulted him to regional and international recognition.
“Congratulations Kirani and Grenada. I knew little about your beautiful country but after watching Kirani’s sportsmanship, gentlemanship and kind words about his people, made me curious,” Peruvian Gracia Toent said in an e-mail to Grenadian broadcaster George Grant.
Sam Donkoh, a Ghanaian living in Toronto, described James’ Olympic win as “truly a magnificent achievement and demonstrates that we, as a people, can rise above our limitations and challenges to shine in this world. We must celebrate our achievements, no matter how small or big they may be.”
As one of the most recognizable faces in sports today, James has become a model for Nike in its latest Sportswear Pinnacle Collection.
Another athlete being used in Nike’s apparel promotion is American Ashton Eaton, Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon.