Is David Rudisha the stand-out athlete of these Olympics?

David Rudisha: the greatest runner you've never heard of. Until now.

V Krishnaswamy
Published: 11, Aug 2012

V Krishnaswamy, a senior journalist has more than 30 years of experience of covering five Olympics, seven Asian Games, five Commonwealth, scores of World Championships and Majors in different sports, including chess and golf. He is also the author of the recently published “Sachin – Hundred hundreds Now”

On a night, when Usain Bolt was re-writing history by retaining the sprint double for the first time ever, a comparatively low-key Kenyan, David Rudisha was re-writing the world record in the 800m, clocking 1:40.91. Watching him was Lord Sebastian Coe, the Chief of LOCOG.

(Coe held the 800m world record from 1981 to 1997 before Wilson Kipketer, the Kenya-born Danish runner, took possession of the world record clocking 1:41.11. The 800m has memories for India, too. It was in this event that Sriram Singh ran in the famous Olympic final of 1976, which was the last time an 800m world record was broken in an Olympic final. Singh led the pack at the 550m mark, and set the pace for the Cuban Alberto Juantorena to clock 1:43.50. Juantorena later credited Sriram’s early pace for the world record, though the Indian ultimately faded to seventh. But Sriram’s time of 1:45.77 stood as an Asian record till 1994, and 35 years on it is still the Indian record. Coe’s mark of 1:41.73 stood the test of time from 1981 to 1997. In fact Coe’s time of 1981 would have still fetched him silver in Thursday’s 800m final.)

“Lord Coe is a good friend of mine,” Rudisha said last night. “I came here in February and he took me around the stadium. I wanted to come here and make him proud. I am very happy. I’ve waited for this moment for a very long time. To come here and get a world record is unbelievable. I had no doubt about winning. Today the weather was beautiful – I decided to go for it.”

Coe called the race “unbelievable” and said it would go down in history “as one of the greatest Olympic victories.” The race was so fast that seven of the runners registered personal bests. Here's an extract from a Guardian story:

Rudisha pulled the field around behind him, like a speedboat leading seven water-skiers. Great Britain's Andrew Osagie came eighth, in 1min 43.77sec. No one has ever run faster to finish last in an 800m final. His was one of seven personal bests set in the race, along with two national records. The odd man out was Rudisha's great rival Abubaker Kaki, who has to settle for a season's best. Even that only got him seventh place. We say rival. In truth there is no one out there who can catch Rudisha. He has lost just one race in his last 46.
The pace was so ferocious that the silver medallist, the 18-year-old Nijel Amos from Botswana, had to be carried from the track in a stretcher. He went off waving cheerily to the crowd, having become only the fifth man in history to run under 1min 42sec. Rudisha has now done that eight times.

Coe described Rudisha's performance as "probably on paper the most impressive track and field athlete at these games." Which, in an Olympics that featured Usain Bolt, is saying a lot!

Since 1976, when Alberto Juantorena ran 1:43.50 in the Montreal final, the world record in 800m has been held only by four people: Alberto Juantorena (1976-1979), Coe (19791-1997), Kipketer (1997-2010) and Rudisha (since 2010). During their respective reigns each of the four athletes broke the world record more than once.

That the 800m event is in for a great future could be seen as an 18-year-old Nijel Ajmos claimed Botswana’s first Olympic medal in athletics with a silver and a 17-year-old Kenyan Timothy Kitum finished third. Rudisha himself now has seven of the top-10 times of all time. Two years ago, first captured the record with a run of 1:41.09, before shaving it down to 1:41.01 a few days later. He is just 23 and the 800m world record could go below 1:40 by the time the Kenyan calls it a day.

Two years ago when Rudisha returned home to Kenya after breaking the world record twice in a week, his Masai compatriots sacrificed 50 cows to celebrate his effort. Now with an Olympic record as well, there could be more cows waiting to be sacrificed.

Not too far from the Olympic Park Stadium, Kenyan Tourism has an office and one of the pictures on the frontage is that of David Rudisha. It could well pull in a few more tourists to Kenya.

Post script:

There are not many athletes, whose achievements can be compared with Bolt’s, especially in short distances. But over long distance, there was the Finn Lasse Virén who won the 5,000m and 10,000m in 1972 and 1976. Viren, a great finisher, ran the final 1,500 metres of the 5,000m run in 1976 in a time that would have given him eighth place in the individual 1,500m, and less than 24 hours after his 5,000m gold, he ran the marathon in 2:13:11 and finished fifth!

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