The best 800m runner of all-time stunned himself.
When asked how he slept Thursday night after breaking his own world record in the 800 meters, David Rudisha, replied, “I couldn’t believe it. I kept waking up and wondering if it was reality.” After a string of disappointing races in which Kenya had hoped to win gold, Rudisha, 23, pulled through big on Thursday with not only a gold for his country, but also the first gold for the Maasai. Rudisha finished in an Olympic record 1:40:91, a tenth of a second better than his previous world record.
From the start of the race Rudisha admits he was confident. “I knew I could control the race. I knew I was in 1:40 shape and that no one was going to challenge me,” Rudisha said in a Friday morning press conference. With an unprecedented lead from the start, Rudisha maintained his position. With 500 meters to go, Rudisha said he could see from the clock that the world record was within reach and inspired him to dig deep. He came through the 400 in 49.28 and already had a big lead.
An incredible seven out of eight competitors posted their personal bests, thanks in part due to Rudisha’s force up front. All eight man in the field ran a best-ever time for their respective place in the Olympic final, and for the first time in history, eight men all broke 1:44 in the same race.
Former 800m world record-holder and two-time Olympian Sebastian Coe called it, “the standout performance of the Games.” Coe has long been an inspiration for Rudisha who admits to watching Coe’s races on YouTube. In all fairness, now Coe evidently admires Rudisha’s talent. Several months ago, in fact, he was sowing the seeds for an impressive 800m final at the London stadium. In February of this year, Coe extended a special invitation to Rudisha to visit the Olympic Park, perhaps to wet his appetite for his race to come. Rudisha says that privileged visit motivated him for the final stretch of preparation before the games. He described his training under Brother Colm O’Connell in Iten, as a three-year development. “In 2010 we ran fast races, in 2011 technical races,” Rudisha said. “In 2012, we put the two together.” And together it came.
Rudisha is a member of a Masai tribe in the Trans Mara region of the Rift Valley, where he is a High Masai Moran, or community leader. He has Olympic blood in him. His father won a silver medal in the 4 x 400m relay in the 1968 games.
“My father is a big inspiration to me,” Rudisha said. Growing up “I wanted to be like him.” He says that his father encouraged him as a boy, telling him to “just keep going like that.” Rudisha heeded that advice. In six years, he’s gone from a raw high school talent to the most dominant 800m runner in history. “I promised him one day I would be an Olympian and have another medal for our family.” On Thursday, Rudisha made true on that promise.
So where does Rudisha go from here? He says he’s happy to have run under 1:41, a goal he’d set to reach before he retired. But many have told him he can run faster, and he has the five remaining 2012 Diamond League races to try to lower his record.
“I could feel my leg was a little sore,” he said of lingering fatigue from Tuesday’s semifinals. “If I go to a race fresh, I can still do better than that.” When asked whether he might challenge Usain Bolt to a 400-meter race, Rudisha chuckled and said it would be “good fun” but appeared to suggest that he saw himself and Bolt racing distinctly different races.
Bolt described himself as a “legend” after his gold medal performance in the 100m. When Rudisha was asked how he’d describe himself after his stunning performance Thursday night, Rudisha paused. In a somewhat shy and humble manner he replied, “I don’t know.” Clearly, Rudisha let’s his racing speak for itself: legendary.