Tell them, he whispered, that familiar soft timbre gaining urgency and strength. Tell them! David Rudisha is back!
It was the night before the Olympic 800m final, and the world’s greatest middle distance runner had a message for his nation. After three years of frustration and only occasional elation following keyhole surgery on a serious knee injury, that old unmistakable tingle had returned. And he was ready to show it.
The journalist, a trusted confidante, was surprised: since 2012 Rudisha has always been cautious about his prospects before a major race. Now his tune couldn’t be more upbeat. She dutifully wrote up his words and Kenya devoured them. When the 800m final began just before 5am Kenyan time, Nairobi was alive. And so, emphatically, was Rudisha.
With 250m remaining he kicked clear, establishing a decisive lead in a few strides before storming away to win in 1:42.16 – his fastest time since he simultaneously won London 2012 gold, smashed his own world record, and produced what Sebastian Coe later trumpeted as the moment of those Games.
In Rudisha’s mind, though, his performance on a stormy night in Rio was even better. “The feeling in my body was good,” he said, smiling. “It is great to win my second gold. It’s so great. I am so excited. It is the greatest moment of my career.”
Incredibly it made him the first Kenyan to retain an Olympic title. It was just a shame that the stadium was only a quarter full to see it.
Silver was taken by the Algerian Taflouki Makhloufi, the 1500m Olympic champion in London, who surpassed his personal best by nearly a second in chasing Rudisha home in 1:42.61. Third – to everyone’s surprise, including his own – was Clayton Murphy, a 21-year-old farm boy from New Paris, Ohio, who announced his arrival on the world’s stage by running 1:42.91. Before his track career, Murphy used to show pigs at agricultural fairs. His father, Mark, believes he is a “just as good a pig salesman as he is a runner”, and wanted him to become a basketball or soccer player. That Murphy chose track suggests he has a smart head with his sharp legs.
“All I know is I broke 1:43 and I’m an Olympic bronze medalist,” said Murphy, incredulously. “When you’re racing for a medal at the Olympics who cares about the time?”
Two hours before the start of the race the heavens opened and the action was suspended for 30 minutes. Rudisha watched on, nervous. Rain is his kryptonite: it makes him mortal. It led to him underperforming at the Berlin World Championships in 2009. Milan 2010. Zurich 2012. The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. And in the Stockholm Diamond League earlier this summer. As his manager James Templeton explained afterwards, it is partly a mental thing. “But he also says to me, the body feels stiff, the legs feel stiff, I can’t get into my normal flow. It just feels different when it is cold and wet.”
After Stockholm Rudisha had told him, ‘ah, this weather – it kills me’. Templeton promised him it wouldn’t be like this in Rio. And now it was.
But the skies cleared and Rudisha relaxed. He was ready. His plan was simple: to lead from the front. Before the race he told his team-mates Alfred Kipketer and Ferguson Cheruiyot Rotich his tactics as a courtesy, just like he had at London 2012, so they could plan their races accordingly. He thought they would tuck in behind him. Instead Kipketer charged out like a hare, desperate to ensure he was leading after 200m, which led to him clashing elbows with Rudisha as he went on a suicidal first lap.
The collision appeared to unsettle Rudisha who dropped back five or six metres. His manager later estimated that it cost him about half a second. But Rudisha is one of the great stoics: when he runs his upper body remains almost perfectly still, while his face rarely betrays emotion even when he is piling the pressure on. Inside he was calm for he knew Kipketer’s pace was suicidal. Gradually he came back to the field and when he did, Rudisha struck. The Frenchman Pierre-Ambroise Bosse tried to go with him, but Rudisha was too strong.
He is still only 27, and his intention to win a third 800m gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics looks a realistic one. “It’s been a very difficult few years,” he admitted, before looking forward. “It takes a lot of discipline and dedication to maintain your form, and you have to make a lot of sacrifices. The most important thing is to work hard and be humble. That’s the beginning of everything.”
His voice dropped an octave as he thought about the bad times. “Sometimes when I was injured I felt low, and wondered whether would I really make it again,” he said. Now there is no need for any more doubts. As he said it so proudly himself: David Rudisha is back.
Source: The Guardian