Triumph through adversity: James-King treats self to delightful birthday gift with PB, national glory and a ticket to Paris

By June 30, 2024
JAMES-KING...Once you tell yourself you can do something, then it is very much possible. JAMES-KING...Once you tell yourself you can do something, then it is very much possible.

Malik James-King's journey to becoming Jamaica's 400m hurdles national champion is a story of grit, determination, and unwavering resolve.

Battling through personal and professional challenges, James-King's triumph at the JAAA National Senior Championships on his birthday nonetheless not only secured him a first national title, but also earned him a coveted spot on Jamaica's team to this summer's Paris Olympic Games.

James-King produced a stunning performance to upset the more fancied World Championships finalist Roshawn Clarke and in the process, became the second fastest Jamaican in history with a breathtaking personal best 47.42 seconds. 

The fact that his previous personal best was 48.39s tells the remarkable story of James-King's progress, as he demonstrates that perseverance can overcome even the most daunting obstacles. He is now ranked only behind Roshawn Clarke’s national record 47.34 seconds set at the World Athletics Championships last year.

"It’s been a tough road, there were moments when I thought I wouldn’t make it this far, but I always believed in myself and the process," James-King told SportsMax.TV.

"Once you tell yourself you can do something, then it is very much possible because I honestly came out knowing I was going to run 47. I just wasn't sure if it would be 47 low or high, so I am just going to go back to the drawing board and get my mind more focused because I think I can run faster," he added.

The atmosphere at the National Stadium was electric on Friday as fans eagerly anticipated the men's and women's 100 finals, but James-King celebrating his 25th birthday, had a lot to prove and he delivered in fine style to whet the spectators appetites ahead of the main events.

Though left a bit back in the opening phase of the race, the diminutive athlete surged ahead in the closing stages, each hurdle he cleared was not just a step towards the finish line, but a symbolic overcoming of the hurdles he had faced in life. When he crossed the finish line, the crowd erupted in cheers, recognizing the monumental achievement of a new national champion.

James-King bettered Clarke (48.04s), who was overwhelmingly favoured to defend his national title, and Commonwealth Games silver medallist Jaheel Hyde (48.35s).

"I didn't panic and I wasn't concerned either (when Clarke and Hyde went out fast). I was actually focusing on clearing each hurdle, so I was just focusing on my lane and my execution and not any of my competitors," James-King declared.

"I know the closing stages of the race is when I am strongest, so I just used that to my advantage and came home strong. I really need to work on the first 200m of my race though, it is a little bit too slow and the other guys are really fast in that period. So I'll be working on that going forward," he noted.

James-King credits much of his National Championships success to the invaluable lessons learned during his maiden Diamond League outing. Competing against some of the best athletes in the world, he gained insights that transformed his approach to the sport. He placed fifth in 49.51s at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. 

Prior to that, he clocked 48.39s to win at the Jamaica Athletics Invitational, and 49.09s at the Loas Angeles Grand Prix.

"The Diamond League was a game-changer for me. Competing at that level showed me what it takes to be among the best. The experience taught me about strategy, mental toughness, and the importance of consistency," James-King shared.

The former Calabar stalwart noted that observing and racing against seasoned athletes provided him with a deeper understanding of the nuances of the 400m hurdles. The exposure to different techniques and race strategies, he said was a eye-opener to refine his own approach, leading to improved performance.

"It was kind of scary because it was the first time coming out of my comfort zone, learning that these guys, they don't respect anyone and they're not afraid to run. So the first time running the Diamond League, I was like, they're way faster than me, they're way stronger than me, and they're more focused. 

"When I observe how they warm up, how they do everything, I was like, oh, damn, I'm not doing anything (to be at the level that they are). So I literally came back, talked to my management and support team and they were like, alright, so you know what you need to do. So there was a lot of buckling down, and a lot of focus, and I just came in here and just did what my coach said I could do," James-King revealed.

With a national title now to his credit, the Titans Track Club representative has already shifted focus to the Paris Olympic Games. Securing a spot on Jamaica's Olympic team is a dream come true for the young hurdler, but he is far from complacent.

"Winning the national title is just the beginning. I'm a lot more focused now and this (win) is a big motivation going forward. As I said, I'm not sure what the future holds, but I'm working to go to the finals at the Olympics. My preparation will be a lot more intense, a lot more watching videos of my performances to see where I can improve, and just going back to the joint board to work on strengthening the weak areas of my race," James-King ended.

Sherdon Cowan

Sherdon Cowan is a five-time award-winning journalist with 10 years' experience covering sports.

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