By Clare Forrester in the Olympic Village
Grenada’s Kirani James led a Caribbean sweep of medals Monday night at the London Olympics in the men’s 400 metres, traditionally an American-dominated event.
James stormed through the finish line in a sensational time of 43.94 seconds, followed by Lugelin Santos of the Dominican Republic who claimed silver, and another 19-year old, Lalonde Gordon from Trinidad and Tobago, who claimed bronze.
This was Grenada’s first Olympic medal and, at a post-race interview, the new hero speculated that: “They're probably having a street party (in Grenada) right now.”
James was never under any real threat throughout the race.
His strongest rival LaShawn Merritt, who had bested him for the World Championship title in 2011, was missing in action due to an injury that kept him off the US team.
But even the American would have had to be at his very best to deny James the gold medal on Monday night, given the manner of Kirani's victory in which he clocked 43.94 seconds, the fastest time for the year.
This time has been surpassed on only one occasion by Merritt in 2008 (43.75) at the Beijing Olympics.
James’ emphatic victory now places him on the all-time list of elite 400 metre sprinters.
Further indication that the US stranglehold on this event was receding could be seen in that no other 400m specialist from that country made it through the finals of this event.
Previously hardly noticed Lalonde Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago,on notching up his country's first medal in the Mens 400m, told Trinidadian journalists afterwards that his bronze will make sure that people now knew who he was.
But James was not the only man from the Caribbean region to light up the London stadium on Monday night.
The Dominican Republic's Felix Sanchez, a veteran 400 metres hurdler, who won the gold medal at the Athens Olympics, repeated that feat to become the oldest-ever winner of an Olympic Games sprint event at the age of 34.
It was a hugely emotional Felix on the victory podium on Monday night.
Overcome with the emotion of the moment, he wept almost uncontrollably as he stood on the victory podium while his country’s anthem was played.
Javier Culson of Puerto Rico finished third.
Jamaica’s sensational 100/200 metres sprinters Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake, and US silver medallist Justin Gatlin, also collected their 100m medals Monday night in a ceremony that attracted an unusually large number of photographers.
'One of those bad days'
However, all did not go as well as initially predicted for Jamaica and, to a lesser extent, the Bahamas.
The 400m hurdles for women produced a shock result when defending champion, Jamaica’s Melaine Walker, was eliminated in the semi- final round.
A media interview she gave after the race did not advance a coherent reason for her obvious lack of form.
She basically said that “it was just one of those bad days,” but that she is still happy and that the only thing left for her to achieve is a world record which she will probably deal with on other occasion.
The other disaster which befell the Jamaican team on Monday occurred when former 100 meres hurdles World Champion Brigitte Foster-Hylton, crashed into a hurdle when leading in her heat.
She was unable to regain her balance sufficiently and so could only mange seventh in a pedestrian 13.98.
One newspaper story on Tuesday morning featured a weeping Brigitte with a caption story which read: “If the amount of tears could determine a gold medal then she would reap buckets.”
Bahamas also suffered some disappointment as their two promising 400m specialists Demitrius Pinder and veteran Chris Brown missed out on a space on the medal podium.
Both sprinters appeared to threaten for a medal in the preliminary rounds but subsequently failed in that quest.
Brown, despite a valiant effort, could only manage fourth last night while Pinder, who has had a superior season, finished seventh.
It was not total gloom for Jamaica, however, as their number two 400 metres female hurdler, Kaliese Spencer advanced to the finals and appeared in good form (54.02), comfortably placing second in her semi-final heat.
She is more than capable of stepping into the breach created by Walker’s elimination.
All three Jamaican women 200m sprinters, Shelly Ann-Pryce, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Sherone Simpson, also advanced to the semi- final round in their event and seem not to have lost their focus.
Hence they should be ready for Wednesday’s finals in continuation of their contest with their main rivals the US team of Allison Felix, Carmelita Jetter and Sanya Richard-Ross.