Tiffany James after winning the 400m at the IAAF World U20 Championships Bydgoszcz 2016 (© Getty Images)
In the 30-year history of the IAAF World U20 Championships, Jamaica had never won the women’s 400m title, but in Bydgoszcz on Thursday evening (21) Tiffany James ended the drought for the sprint superpower with a composed, courageous display of one-lap running.
The 19-year-old clocked 51.32 to take victory, the fastest time in the world by an U20 athlete this year, marginally in front of Lynna Irby of USA (51.39) and Jamaican teammate Junelle Bromfield (52.05).
James was a world U18 bronze medallist three years ago, but had endured a disappointing couple of years since. Coming into 2016 – her final year at U20 level – she set herself the target of gold in Bydgoszcz and on Thursday evening she delivered in emphatic style.
Afterwards she admitted the weight of the occasion had been a slight burden. “I was very nervous,” she said. “I knew I had to go out hard, so I did.”
James ran a strong opening 300m from lane five, but as they turned for home it was an athlete two lanes outside her – Lynna Irby – who appeared to hold the lead. Three metres back, Australia’s Jessica Thornton, Kenya’s Maureen Nyatichi Thomas and Jamaica’s Bromfeld were locked together in a battle for the bronze.
The battle for the gold was left to Irby and James, who engaged in a to-and-fro struggle all the way down the home straight, the Jamaican just about edging it as they approached the line. It was an effort that left her coping with dire levels of fatigue afterwards, but soon after the champion was helped to her feet, she explained that gold had been her plan all along.
“It was my goal since the start of the season,” said James. “I’ve had bad seasons in recent years so I said coming into this year I want to get that gold. I don’t want to say I surprised myself because I work hard and I expected that.”
Back in second, Irby had good cause to hold her head high after an admirable effort in defeat, taking 0.30 off her PB. “I’m pretty proud,” she said. “The plan was to get out hard and finish strong. I knew there would be a battle, but I’m proud that everything is going in the right direction.”
Bromfield egded third in 52.05, with the judges having to go down to thousandths of a second to separate her from Thornton, who finished fourth with the same time, a lifetime best. “This medal means a lot to me,” she said. “After the disappointment last year in Cali, this year it was my goal to win a medal here.”
Thomas set a Kenyan U20 record in fifth with 52.09, while Cuba’s Roxana Gomez came home sixth in a PB of 52.24.
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF