Kirani James

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Kirani James returns from Graves’ disease, inspired by Gail Devers

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A familiar sprinter popped up as the fastest qualifier into Wednesday’s 400m semifinals at the world championships: Grenada’s Kirani James.

James, who in 2012 became his small island nation’s first Olympic medalist (it was gold), has hardly been seen in competition since taking silver in Rio behind world-record-breaker Wayde van Niekerk.

That’s because he was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes an overactive thyroid. James learned of it after the April 2017 Drake Relays, when he finished sixth in his slowest final time in nine years. James said afterward that he wasn’t injured or fatigued, but he soon learned what was really wrong after a series of tests.

“What was the worst point? When I wasn’t feeling like me,” James said after Tuesday’s first-round heats in Doha, where he clocked 44.94, off his personal best of 43.74. “It’s a strange feeling because nobody knows your body better than yourself. When your body is telling you something, it’s like, OK, something’s wrong.”

Upon the diagnosis, James’ coach at the University of Alabama (where he ran collegiately) instantly thought of two-time Olympic 100m champion Gail Devers. Devers was diagnosed in the early 1990s. It was reportedly so dire that Devers, during radioactive iodine treatment, was reduced to crawling from room to room. Devers came back to make four more Olympic teams, including those 100m golds in 1992 and 1996.

“If she can get back, then we just have to follow a plan,” James said.

James did not mention any treatment other than medication he takes every morning and that he is at the end of a two-year cycle. The disease saps energy and causes weight loss. James then had to gain weight in treatment — he went from a race weight of 175 pounds up to 200 before dropping back down.

“Essentially what I had was a hyperactive thyroid. Only way you can [treat it] is kill off the thyroid,” he said. “It kind of goes from overproducing to zero, and then you have to take medication to balance it off. It takes a while for the medication to reach a certain level it’s supposed to. It’s kind of balancing off right now.”

James snuck into these world championships by posting a qualifying time in a small meet in Spain on Sept. 6, the very last day to become eligible. It was his first race since July 21, 2018 after he missed the 2017 Worlds with the disease.

James is seeded seventh at the world championships with a best time this season 1.02 seconds slower than world leader Michael Norman. But, for what it’s worth, he was faster than Norman and the other favorite, U.S. champion Fred Kerley, in Tuesday’s heats.

James is the lone Olympic 400m medalist entered at worlds. Other champions van Niekerk and LaShawn Merritt have also been sidelined for most of this Olympic cycle.

“Our event is so volatile where there is so much turnover of athletes,” James said, noting he was the only 2012 Olympic finalist to make the 2016 Olympic final. “It shows you how crazy our event is. My aim is to be consistent and not try to compare myself to a lot of the guys.”

James said he’s essentially cured but is on lifetime medication.

“I just have to try to be realistic and know that the next round is going to be even tougher,” he said, looking ahead to the semifinals and, potentially, the final.

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report from Doha.

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Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Paul Chelimo grab defining wins at London Diamond League

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Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce had not raced in the Diamond League in two years. Paul Chelimo had never won at an international meet.

Both grabbed wins at the first day of a Diamond League stop at the London Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

Fraser-Pryce, the two-time Olympic 100m champion who missed 2017 due to pregnancy, broke 11 seconds for the first time as a mother. She won in 10.98 seconds, edging American Dezerea Bryant by .06.

“I cannot complain because I haven’t raced for ages and I’m happy that the run today was under 11 seconds,” said Fraser-Pryce, who has raced in smaller meets this spring and summer. “It’s hard work racing after having a child, but it’s not as though it’s anything I’m not used to. I’m used to sacrificing and making sure that my path is right. Being a mother is my first priority and to come back and be flexible with my training is wonderful and I’m so excited about next year now.”

The field lacked the world’s top sprinters — like Rio gold medalist Elaine Thompson and world champ Tori Bowie — but the Jamaican Fraser-Pryce impressed with the fastest time in the heats an hour before the final.

In the men’s 100m, meet headliner Christian Coleman withdrew before the heats with a hamstring injury. Coleman, the 2017 World silver medalist, missed all June meets with a hamstring injury. Countryman Ronnie Baker won in 9.90 in his absence, .02 off the fastest time in the world this season that he shares with Noah Lyles.

Full London results are here. The two-day meet concludes Sunday, live on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA at 9 a.m. ET and NBC Sports Gold at 8:45.

In other events, Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo became the second U.S. man to win a Diamond League 5000m. Chelimo surged past Ethiopian Yomif Kejelecha in the last straightaway for his first international win, according to Tilastopaja.org. He clocked 13:14.01 with world champion Muktar Edris of Ethiopia grabbing second in 13:14.35 ahead of Kejelcha.

The only other American man to win a Diamond League 5000m was Ben True in 2014.

The 2012 Olympic 400m champion Kirani James finished third in his first Diamond League race since his Rio Olympic silver medal. James, of Grenada, missed time after being diagnosed with Graves’ Disease.

James led up until about 300 meters and faded in the last straightaway as Qatar’s Abdalleleh Haroun won in 44.07. James crossed in 44.50, just off his 2018 best time of 44.35 that ranks him 10th in the world this season.

In the pole vault, Sam Kendricks outdueled Renaud Lavillenie, clearing 5.92 meters to better the Frenchman for a 12th time in their last 15 head-to-heads, according to Tilastopaja.

U.S. champion Shamier Little outleaned Jamaican Janieve Russell to win the 400m hurdles by .01 in 53.95. Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad was third in 54.86.

“I put my soul into that lean,” Little said, according to meet organizers.

Little, the 2015 World silver medalist, has been best in the event in the second half of the season, following her June national title with two straight Diamond League wins. The fastest woman this year is American Sydney McLaughlin (52.75), who appears to have ended her season at the NCAA Championships in early June.

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Kirani James to miss world championships

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Kirani James, a 400m gold and silver medalist at the last two Olympics, will miss the world track and field championships in London in August.

James is recovering from an illness, the Grenada track and field federation president said Thursday.

The 24-year-old Grenadian last raced April 28, when he finished sixth at the Drake Relays in his slowest final time in nine years. James said afterward that he wasn’t injured or fatigued.

James could have been the biggest threat to Rio champion Wayde van Niekerk at worlds.

He posted the fastest 400m times in the Rio heats and semifinals before Van Niekerk surged to a world-record 43.03 seconds out of lane 8 in the final. James earned silver in 43.76, the second-fastest time for the year.

With James out, Van Niekerk’s path to a potential 200m-400m double at worlds just got a little easier.

However, the fastest 400m man in the world this year is upstart American Fred Kerley, who ran 43.70 on May 26.

Van Niekerk’s fastest time this year is 46.28, but all four of his 400m races this year came in South African meets in March and April before the outdoor season ramped up.

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