London: For several years Kirani James was the coming man of world sprinting as the teenager from the Caribbean island of Grenada broke age-group records for fun. At the Olympics, he emphatically arrived. After setting a new national record of 43.94sec – and becoming the first non-US athlete to break the 44-second barrier -- the long-standing world record set by US great Michael Johnson is inevitably a talking point. (Agencies)
James, 19, powered to gold in the men's 400m on Monday to win his nation's first Olympic medal of any colour and break the Americans' 28-year stranglehold on the event, a year after winning a surprise world title in South Korea.
Johnson's mark of 43.18sec was predicted to stand for decades when it was set in 1999, but James' talent and sheer physical attributes suggest he could threaten it.
To put James's talent further into context, while Usain Bolt ran 45.35sec for the 400m as a 16-year-old, James timed 45.24 at the same age.
But despite the hype, Johnson's world mark is not at the front of his mind, even though he admits "you want to be in the same sentence as Michael Johnson".
"Obviously he's (Johnson's) been a huge thing for our sport and our event. Obviously everyone wants to reach that level and some point," he said.
"But I'm just focused on the best that I can be and don't try to be like Michael Johnson because if I try to do that, every time I fail is going to be a disappointment for me and a disappointment for everyone."
The American sprinter himself has no doubts about the huge talent that has arrived on the world stage, saying he could be the man to take the event to new heights.
"I am sure he will have a world record in his sights -- my world record -- and he could very well be the one to break it because he is a tremendous talent," Johnson told BBC TV after James won gold.
The Olympic title almost appeared inevitable for James after reigning champion LaShawn Merritt of the United States pulled up in his first-round race with an injury.
James set world age-group records for the 400m when he was 13, 14 and 15, winning double 200-400m golds at the 2009 world youth championships, before being crowned world junior champion in the 400m a year later.
But the University of Alabama student, who is coached by Harvey Glance, the 1976 Olympic sprint relay gold medallist, said for now he had no plans to drop down to 200m to challenge Bolt and the Jamaican speed merchants.
"For now it's the 400m. Me stepping into the 200 right now, I think it's a way too talented field. You have to respect guys that specialise in the 200. Just doing that 200-400 double is very hard."
Hailing from the fishing village of Gouyave, where his father is a labourer, James said he was proud to be his country's first medallist and that "it's probably crazy at home right now. There's probably a huge road party."
"Just being here and being an Olympic gold medallist is a huge step for our country in terms of just stepping up to the plate in track and field and going out and putting us on the map," he added.
London: For several years Kirani James was the coming man of world sprinting as the teenager from the Caribbean island of Grenada broke age-group records for fun. At the Olympics, he emphatically arrived.
After setting a new national record of 43.94sec – and becoming the first non-US athlete to break the 44-second barrier -- the long-standing world record set by US great Michael Johnson is inevitably a talking point.