Kirani James is one of the best 400-meter sprinters in the world. He hasn’t been doing a lot of running lately.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken James — the former University of Alabama sprinter from Grenada — out of training routine, and on Tuesday, it did much worse. It forced James to wait an additional year for his chance at a third Olympic medal, when the International Olympic Committee and Japan agreed to postpone the Tokyo Summer Olympics to 2021. The news had been percolating for days, but when it finally came down, James said he found out the same way everyone else did: seeing it on major news networks as he woke up.
“The way I see it is, for them to postpone it, they’re taking this pandemic very seriously and I’m sure if there was a way where they could keep it for this year, they would have,” James said. “Obviously, they exhausted all their options. It is what it is. At the end of the day, safety and health trumps the Olympics every time.”
James quickly shot to worldwide fame after his UA career ended in 2011, winning the gold in the 400 at the 2012 Olympics in London; it was Grenada’s first Olympic medal of any kind. That came a year after he won the gold in the same event at the world championship meet in 2011.
Since winning the gold medal in London, he won the silver medal at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, plus a gold at the Commonwealth Games in 2014. His immediate professional success was no shock, considering he won the NCAA outdoor championship in the 400 in each of his two years at UA.
James’ most recent world championships showing was a fifth-place finish in the fall. He will still be a contender when the Olympics eventually happen at a to be determined date in 2021.
“Training was good. It was very consistent, the workouts and everything,” James said. “Really it was just gearing up for the start of the season in April. Everything was on track.”
But the Olympics are not the only event influenced by the postponement. Olympic sports such as swimming and track and field have well-rehearsed four-year schedules, with world championships and other prominent events scheduled in good timing with the Olympics and other events. Those schedules will be thrown into question while the Olympics are rescheduled, as are the schedules of the athletes that know well how to get their bodies in top condition for the given events.
“I’m not sure how the rest of the season is gonna play out. I think they’re still planning to have a couple of meets later in the year, so obviously the plan is to prepare for that,” James said. “And then next year is kind of the same schedule as the Olympics.
“The people in those positions that make those decisions haven’t said anything publicly yet. We’re waiting to see what their plan is, because I know there is a world championship scheduled for next year. So there’s no word on that: if it’s canceled, pushed back or anything. Hopefully they can give us some news in the foreseeable future so that we can have an idea of how to move forward and how to prepare.”
For many athletes, the extra year may negatively impact their chances of competing for medals or qualifying for the event at all. James, 27 years old and still among the world’s best at his craft, does not see it having such an impact on his own career.
“I don’t think so, at least not right now. It is what it is,” James said. “It’s not the fault of anything we can control. We just take it as what it is and try our best to prepare. That’s the decision they came to and we have to accept it. We have to prepare as best as we can.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson