DOHA, Qatar – Kirani James barely knows the names of his fellow 400 runners anymore.
They sure know him.
The 2012 Olympic champion from Grenada is feeling healthier after two years of dealing with an auto-immune disease. He turned in the fastest time of 44.94 seconds in the opening round of the 400 meters Tuesday night at the world championships.
His competitors sure noticed.
“You’ve got to respect a champion (like him) because they’re the ones that laid the foundation for us,” American Fred Kerley said.
In 2017, James struggled with fatigue and dropped 20 pounds before being diagnosed with a thyroid condition called Graves’ disease. It’s taken some time, but he’s back to his ideal running weight of 175 pounds – he added 20 pounds as they figured out the proper medicine dose – and looking to collect another world title. He won the 400 at the 2011 world championships when he was just a teenager.
Now 27, James is competing against a new generation of sprinters that have blossomed in his two-year absence (he did run an occasional meet).
“I’m seeing names and going, ‘Who is this guy? Who is this guy? And who is this guy?“’ said James, who earned an Olympic silver in 2016 on a night when South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk broke the world record.
One name James should know: American Michael Norman, who’s one of the favorites and had the second-fastest time (45.00) in the opening round.
His dad is a Jamaican musician who’s been in reggae bands. He’s a Japanese 400-meter runner who marched to a different beat – sprinting.
Get to know Julian Jrummi Walsh, the sprinter who was born in Jamaica, grew up in Japan and is focused on competing for his country at the Tokyo Games.
“I’m really excited,” Walsh said of the possibility.
His father, Emanuel Walsh, is a well-known singer and drummer who has worked with quite a few bands , including one titled Black Blood that’s “really good,” his son reported.
Ever consider playing the drums or singing like pops?
“No,” he said, smiling. “Running. I like running.”
Take a break?
Ethiopian track officials have a stern warning for their marathoners: Take on the heat in Doha and then take off three months.
The federation said the decision was prompted by concerns for the athletes’ health and any who break the rules face “severe consequences.”
Despite starting the event at night, the sweltering conditions for the women’s marathon led to 28 of the 68 starters to drop out, including all three Ethiopians.
The men’s marathon is set for a minute before midnight on Saturday. The conditions are expected to be around the same as the women’s race when at the finish it was 88 degrees (31 Celsius) with a heat index of 105 (40).
In Doha, Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas will race only the 400. In Tokyo, her ambitions become even bigger – to tackle both the 200 and 400.
That is, if she can get the Olympics officials to alter the schedule. She said her country has petitioned to make that happen.
At the moment, the start of the 400 and the final of the 200 are both on Aug. 4. Miller-Uibo won the 400 at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
A switch is not unprecedented. Before Rio, U.S. Track and Field successfully petitioned the IAAF to amend the competition schedule for Allyson Felix. But Felix finished fourth in the 200-meter final at the U.S. Olympic Trials, one spot out of the Rio mix. She did make the Olympic squad in the 400 and captured silver behind Miller-Uibo.
“We’re hoping they can make a little change for us,” said Miller-Uibo, who advanced Tuesday to the 400 final. “We’re definitely looking forward to it.”
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