words Alan Woods
As the curtains closed on Rio’s vibrant Olympic games, the United States sat at the summit of the medals table with 46 golds, 37 silvers and 38 bronze.
It was also a golden games for a triumphant British team whose medal haul was their biggest for more than a century. China completed the top three, closely followed by a controversial Russian team and Germany.
But while these Olympic heavyweights dominated the podiums across a range of sports, they were not actually the most successful countries at the games. At least not if you go by medals won per capita. In that case, your true Olympic champion is the tiny island nation of Grenada.
Grenada’s unrivalled Olympic performance
Grenada, a tri-island state in the South-Eastern Caribbean Sea, is perhaps known more for its spices and exotic scenery than its sporting success. With a population of little more than 100,000, Grenada only sent seven athletes to Brazil. Kirani James, the poster boy of Grenadian athletics, was joined by athletes Bralon Taplin, Kanika Beckles, Kurt Felix, Lindon Victor and swimmers Oreoluwa Cherebin and Corey Ollivierre.
Since competing in their first ever Olympic games in 1984, Grenada have sent athletes to all eight summer Olympic Games that have taken place since. In the country’s 32 year Olympic history, Grenada have only ever won two medals, both coming from sprinter Kirani James.
At London 2012, James became the country’s first ever Olympic medallist as he won 400m gold in a new national record of 43.94 seconds. In 2016, James came in second in the same event, securing Grenada’s second Olympic medal.
Despite winning only one medal in Rio, Grenada topped the medal table in terms of medals per capita for the second consecutive games. The nutmeg-producing island won one medal per 106,825, compared to USA’s measly total of one medal for every 2,656,353 citizens. In terms of weighted medals by GDP, Grenada also come out on top, edging out the Bahamas and Jamaica.
The Kirani James effect
Since Kirani James stormed to victory in London 2012, visitor arrivals to the country have surged. Taking more and more shares of the market in Caribbean travel, tourism in the country is rapidly increasing. Latest figures suggest visitor arrivals have risen by 10.3% within the past six months that followed the games.
Having previously relied on exports of spices, cocoa beans, fish and wheat flour, the influx of tourists has been a welcome source of income. The emerging Grenadian economy has seen its focus shift from agriculture to the expansion of its tourism sector and provision of services.
Peter David, Grenada’s tourism minister at the time of the London 2012, said no price could be put on James’s triumph and hailed a golden opportunity for the growth of sports and tourism in the country.
The future is bright for Grenadian athletics
The Grenadian government will be hoping the exploits of Kirani James will inspire a new generation of medal winning Olympians for the future. The construction of a new 8,000 seater athletics stadium, built to replace a venue destroyed in Hurricane Ivan in 2004, will surely galvanise aspiring athletes on the island.
The future already looks bright – a number of talented Grenadian athletes emerged at this summer’s games. Oreoluwa Cherebin, a swimmer twice named the Grenada Olympic Committee’s female sports personality of the year, was only 18 years old when she competed in the women’s 100m breaststroke. Similarly, Corey Ollivierre, another swimming prospect, competed in the men’s 100m breaststroke at the tender age of 19.
Elsewhere, Lindon Victor is a future medal hope in the decathlon. In the 2015 IAAF World Championships, Victor broke his country’s national record beating his brother and fellow Grenadian decathlete Kurt Felix. In Rio he finished in ninth place, but after winning the discus throw event, his potential is clear to see.
Perhaps the most exciting thing for Grenada is that Kirani James is still only 24 – their national hero has plenty of years left in him yet. In Tokyo 2020, expect to see James standing proud on that podium once again.