Individual rivalries can revive athletics: James

Sat May 16, 2015 5:00am EDT
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By Ian Chadband

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Head-to-head rivalries featuring the world's leading athletes are the best way forward for the beleaguered sport of track and field, according to Olympic 400 meters champion Kirani James.

The Grenadian 22-year-old puts his beliefs into action by never shying away from battle with his main rival for one-lap supremacy, American world champion LaShawn Merritt.

On Sunday, the pair will meet for the 14th time over the distance at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai, with James adamant that building up such rivalries is key for a sport whose popularity has taken such a hit from doping scandals and ineffective promotion.

The issue has been highlighted again with the likelihood that Justin Gatlin, currently the world number one sprinter, and Usain Bolt, the great Olympic and world champion, are unlikely to race all season until the world championships in Beijing in August.

"Some athletes have different circumstances and their own reasons why they don't compete in certain meetings and that's up to them, but I think head-to-head rivalries bring a lot more excitement to the sport," James told Reuters on Friday.

"For me, when I compete, I try to put on a good performance for the fans, just make it exciting and not focus on whether I’m going to win or lose. Once you do that, everyone wins because the sport wins."

Having beaten Merritt eight times and lost five, he added: "We just want to compete. He (Merritt) says it and I say it. We just want to make it exciting for the fans and once we do that, everything's all right."

Organizers of the Diamond League, the sport’s major season-long showpiece, have taken on board this need to promote individual rivalries.   Continued...

Kirani James of Grenada holds his national flag as he celebrates after winning the men's 400 metres at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, July 30, 2014. REUTERS/Phil Noble