On Thursday night, Usain Bolt’s defence of the 200m made him the best sprinter of all time (whether he is the ‘greatest’ athlete deserves a whole other debate). Yet, it was another athlete that deserved many of those headlines that night in David Rudisha.
If you woke up and read a newspaper on Friday, you would think David Rudisha wasn’t very important; he might not of even existed. A man named Usain Bolt, however, would have seemed very important; he did, after all, becoming a ‘living legend’ as he stormed to the 200m gold, becoming the first man to defend both sprint titles and the first man with four spring golds.
Somewhat overshadowed by Bolt’s display, Kenyan Rudisha took the 800m final in the same evening. Only 23, Rudisha grew up as a member of the famous Masai tribe and was discovered by a Irish priest, Brother Colm O’Connell – a man with no coaching experience, but who has helped youngsters to find running as a escape route for poverty in the Rift Valley.
O’Connell knew Rudisha was a gem, changing him from a decathlete to a 800m runner. He was not wrong. With an athletic pedigree – his father, Daniel, won silver in the 400m in the 1968 Olympics – Rudisha has only lost one race in the last three years and had run the the three fastest 800m times ever. The pressure was on.
And while Bolt may have defended his 100m and 200m golds with relative ease; he never had the same margin of victory as Beijing nor looked like threatening his own world records.
For Rudisha, it was a different story; he didn’t just win his race, but obliterated his opponents and got a world record to boot, breaking his own time by running under the 1 minute 41 second mark.
This was no average world record; we might add. Not only was it the first track world record of the games; but the 800m has been notoriously difficult to break throughout history. Sebastian Coe held the record for 16 years after a record-breaking run in 1982. Denmark’s Wilson Kipketer’s world record, which he ran in 1997, has until this week remained fairly unchallenged.
The 800m is also known for its tactical and stategic approach. There were no room for tactics for Rudisha (or if there was, they weren’t very advanced). He ran and ran and ran. When he was blowing the field apart, he just ran faster, clocking an every 25 seconds every 200m quarter.
In fact, he put the race through such a quick pace that he dragged the rest of the field with him; with all 8 finalists running a personal or season’s best. It was the fastest 800m race in history.
Andrew Osagie finished 8th in the 2012 final, but his time would have been good enough for gold at the three preceding Olympic games
British runner Andrew Osagie was one of those finalist and ran “the race of his life” – as Steve Cram said would be required – blowing nearly 3 seconds of his best ever time and going fourth in the all-time British list. Despite this, he still finished in 8th position.
You’re probably thinking that maybe he just isn’t any good then? Wrong. Andrew’s time would have won the gold medal at the three preceding games of Beijing, Athens and Sydney; instead, he finished last.
Such statistics only go to show both the phenomenal athlete that Rudisha is as well as the fact that London 2012 witnessed the best ever middle distance race ever in history.
And, in many ways, it seemed like it was fate for it to happen at these games. It has one-of-the best ever middle distance runners watching on in the stands with Sebastian Coe – who incidentally never won the event at the Olympics despite it being his ‘better’ event. Rudisha had spoken beforehand about how he had watched Youtube videos of the Locog Chairman to observe their “styles and tactics” and the two are rumored to be friends.
Even more perfect was the fact that silver medalist, Nijel Amos, finished exactly at 1.41.73, equalling the world record time set by Coe in Florence in 1981. In many ways, it seemed like destiny.
Despite his success, Rudisha has never forget his roots though; after setting the world record in 2010, he returned to his hometown where he was greeted by 5,000 of his kinsman and 50 cows were slaughtered in his honour.
Before the games, Rudisha was widely paraded as the “best Olympic athlete you’ve never heard of”. Hopefully, his performance on Thursday changed all that for the better. The next step? Beat the 100 second barrier.
Bad news for some Kenyan cattle though.
Please note: This article was written before Mo Farah’s incredible 5000m win, claiming the long-distance track double.