Saturday, 21 July 2012

Olympics Stars #9 - David Rudisha

By Shane Thomas

Can you name the most dominant track & field athlete of the past few years? Usain Bolt? Sally Pearson? Yelena Isinbayeva? Look again. If you want to hang a gold medal around someone's neck before the Olympics begin, your best bet is David Rudisha.

When talking about Kenyans and the track, we stereotypically think of the long-distance events. Simplistic tales of the Kenyans who can run for days, leaving their white European counterparts in the shade, "After all they're used to it. They spend their days growing up having to run to the well just to drink water."

While Rudisha has the tall, angular, near-emaciated body type of a long distance runner, his domain is the 800 metres, the middle-distance that was once the preserve of British athletes. He first arrived as a force in 2009, running the fourth fastest 800 metres in history, at a meet in Italy - also breaking the African record at the event.

At this time, Rudisha was only 21 years old. It was safe to assume that he would only get faster, and so it proved. In his still incipient career, 2010 became his annus mirabilis. In July of that year, he ran the second fastest ever 800 metre time. The following month, he broke the world record, which had stood for 7 years. As the plaudits and superlatives rained down, Rudisha seemed oddly blase about the whole thing, claiming that he only broke the world record because it was the first time he'd made a concerted effort to do so. Rudisha stated that he was capable of running even faster.

Well, as the saying goes, it's not arrogance if you can back it up. A week later, Rudisha did exactly that, breaking the world record again, lowering the time to 1:41:01, which is where the record currently stands.

Personally I don't think Rudisha suffers from hubris, but more the fearlessness of youth that doesn't set limits for oneself. Part of his remarkable speed comes from his earlier days as a 400 metre runner, which surely helps his kick in the closing junctures of his races.

2011 brought a 34 race unbeaten streak, and the World 800 metre championship in Daegu. He goes into London 2012 as the overwhelming favourite to take his first Olympic title. I dearly hope that any press attention he gets focuses on his searing brilliance on the track, and not on the fact that Rudisha is a member of the Maasai ethnic-group of people. I'm already bracing myself for the first wave of media ignorance that asserts Rudisha comes from a "tribe".

Not only could Rudisha light up the Olympic Stadium in a few weeks, but this may not be his crowning glory. It seems absurd to say that when talking about the Olympics, but at only 23 years old, what's to say that Rudisha won't run even faster at the 2016 Games?

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