ST.GEORGE’S, Grenada, CMC – Prime Minister Tillman Thomas declared a National Colours Day in support of newly crowned World 400 metres champion Kirani James who delivered Grenada its first ever World Championship medal in a stunning display yesterday.
The 18-year-old James scored a major upset early yesterday, beating American LaShawn Merritt to become the third youngest ever World champion at the showpiece being staged in Daegu, South Korea.
James’s compatriot Rondell Bartholomew finished sixth in the event.
In a statement, Prime Minister Thomas called on Grenadians to wear their national colours in support of the two national athletes.
“All Grenadians should be proud of the performances of the Grenada team at the Championships and should wear their national colours to reflect that support,” declared the Grenadian leader, just hours before James chased down Merritt in the homestretch to win his first senior major title.
Many Grenadians responded to the call including a man who entered the city centre wearing a suit including jacket, tie and hat in the national colours of red, green and yellow.
The country was at a standstill at 8.45 am Eastern Caribbean time yesterday as James clocked a personal best 44.60 seconds while Bartholomew finished sixth in 45.45 seconds.
Hundreds watched anxiously on local television from the Government complex in St. George’s to James’ west coast fishing home town of Gouyave, as James got off to a quick start, took his foot off the pedal in the middle of the race before producing a late surge to beat Merrit at the tape.
With James set to celebrate his 19th birthday tomorrow, there have been growing calls for a national holiday but Government has not said whether it will consider the move.
People gathered on the streets of Gouyave for the typical victory parade that happens after James’s every international success but this one was different as people danced in the street in an impromptu carnival to celebrate the achievement.
His mother and brother, draped in a huge national flag, were also seen in the crowd including a young man wearing a t-shirt with the figure 44.60.
Prime Minister Thomas and Sports Minister Patrick Simmons visited the celebrations in Gouyave and congratulated members of James’s family including mother Pamela and his brother and little sister.
An air of expectancy had gripped the country Monday evening with the prospect that Grenada might get its first ever medal at a World Athletics Championships.
“Kirani’s outstanding performance in the 400 meters is a boost that the people of the country needed to help them cope in these tough economic and recessionary times,” declared former Sports Minister Roland Bhola minutes after the race.
Grenada’s only world class athlete before this was Alleyne Francique over the same distance – who placed fourth at the Athens Olympics in 2004.
James has dominated at every level, from CARIFTA to World Youth Games in recent years, and announced his arrival on the professional circuit only two weeks ago in London with a victory over more seasoned campaigners, some of whom were again featured in yesterday’s final.
In honour of James’s remarkable feat, a two cannon blasts echoed at noon from Police Headquarters followed by wailing of sirens from all fire tenders nationwide.