The man who revolutionised the 800m
Kenyan middle-distance runner David Rudisha has transformed the 800m, traditionally a tactical race of cat and mouse, into an out-and-out sprint, an approach he demonstrated to devastating effect at London 2012, where he shattered his own world record to claim gold.
In the footsteps of his father Hailing from Kenya’s Rift Valley, Rudisha, the sixth of seven siblings of a Masai family, was born to run. His father, Daniel, was a member of the Kenyan team that took silver in the 4x400m at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, and was an important source of inspiration for his son. “My father's encouragement is what has brought me this far, because when I grew up I wanted to be like him, and I knew I had that ability to become an athlete,” explains Rudisha.
Tactical trailblazer Rudisha was taken under the wing of an Irish missionary priest, Father Colm O’Connell. The Irishman had previously coached Peter Rono, who won 1500m gold at Seoul 1998, and triple 800m world champion Wilson Kipketer, and he was quick to recognise Rudisha’s potential and set about polishing this diamond in the rough into a world-class athlete. By the time he won the 2006 World Junior Championships in Beijing, the Kenyan had already established a name for himself with some impressive performances on the international Grand Prix circuit. However, he was denied a chance to cement that reputation at the 2008 Olympic Games because of injury. Then, at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, he was eliminated in the semi-finals of the 800m after getting boxed out by the pack. Determined not to let that happen again, he adopted a new tactic that was simple and devastatingly effective: start in front, keep the tempo high, and stay in front until the finish.
Eclipsing Kipketer Powerful and fleet-of-foot, Rudisha has the ability to maintain his rhythm right into the final straight and then produce a final burst to leave the chasing pack eating dust. This ability was in full evidence in Berlin on 22 August 2010, when he ran 1:41.09 to smash the old world record set by Kipketer, and then a week later in Rieti (ITA), where shaved a further eight hundredths of a second of that time. On 30 August 2011, he was crowned world champion in Daegu (KOR), and later that year he won the IAAF Diamond League.
London calling As the flag-bearer of the Kenyan delegation during the London 2012 Opening Ceremony on 27 July 2012, Rudisha had the opportunity to complete a lap of the Olympic Stadium in slow-motion. When he returned to the venue on 9 August the tempo was somewhat faster! His sprint to victory in the 800m final was one of the standout highlights of the Games, as he set a new world record time of 1:40.91 to become the first athlete in history to run sub1:41. In doing so, he also became the first 800m runner to hold the world and Olympic titles, and the world record, at the same time. Still in his early twenties, Rudisha looks set to dominate his event for many years to come.