MIAMI (Reuters) - Grenada’s prime minister declared a half-holiday on Tuesday and gave the entire island the afternoon off to celebrate runner Kirani James’ Olympic gold medal in the men’s 400 meter race.
It was the first Olympic medal ever won by an athlete from the tiny southeast Caribbean island of Grenada, which has just under 110,000 residents.
“This is a fantastic achievement,” said Richard Simon, press secretary for Prime Minister Tillman Thomas. “This has basically given Grenada a sense of presence in the international community that we didn’t have before in the context of world athletics.”
Caribbean sprinters dominated the podium in the 400-meter race. James, 19, won with a time of 43.94 seconds, ahead of the Dominican Republic’s Luguelin Santos and Lalonde Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago, who took silver and bronze respectively.
After winning the semifinals on Sunday, James swapped nametags with South African Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who runs on carbon fiber prosthetic blades after being born without a fibula in both legs. Pistorius failed to make the finals and James’ touching gesture was televised around the world.
The Caribbean is enjoying stunning sprinting success at the London Games with Jamaican men and women dominating the 100 meters, and likely to win more medals in the 200 meters. Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic also won gold in the 400 meters hurdles.
Giant television screens were set up at four parks and stadiums so Grenadians could watch Monday’s race at the London Games. Spectators dressed in the national colors of green, gold and red and streamed into the streets, blowing seashells and cheering after James surged home a half-second ahead of world junior champion Santos.
Government offices closed at midday and revelers streamed to James’ hometown, the fishing village of Gouyave, for a rally. Calypso singers composed new songs in honor of James who is known as “The Jaguar.”
“It’s an early carnival for us,” Simon told Reuters by telephone. “It’s going to be a culmination basically of three or four days of celebration for Kirani’s involvement in the Olympics. It’s a huge party.”
Revelers were invited to watch a webcast of the rally starting at 2:45 p.m. EDT (18:45 GMT) at www.viewpasstv.com/
Editing by David Adams and Doina Chiacu