Wilfred Bungei's brilliant victory over 800 meters in Beijing was a race to behold. Running from the front early on, Bungei lead at the 200 meters, hit the 400 meters in 53 seconds and then ran a 51.4 to close the race and take the win. His win was extremely close, his 1;44.65 holding off Ismael Ahmed Ismael of the Sudan's 1:44.70. The captain of the Kenyan Olympic team now wants to run very fast over 800 meters, and Bob Ramsak tells us, in this revealing interview, just how fast Mr. Bungei believes he can go....
TRACK PROFILE Report #825
WITH OLYMPIC QUEST FINALLY BEHIND HIM, BUNGEI'S FOCUS NOW IS ON MORE FAST TIMES
By Bob Ramsak
(c) 2008 TRACK PROFILE Report, all rights reserved
BRUSSELS –- Playing host to 12 sub-1:43 performances in the 800m, the most at any one meeting, the Memorial Van Damme certainly has a storied tradition in the men’s two-lap contest. Among that dandy dozen is recently-minted Olympic champion Wilfred Bungei, who won here in 2003 with a scintillating 1:42.52 run. And with his long elusive medal quest finally behind him, the Kenyan said he now’s prepared to continue chasing fast times.
“Having achieved one of the best achievements that every sports man or woman aspire to, I will approach my remaining years in my career much more relaxed,” Bungei said. For years the 28-year-old has been among the fastest two-lap specialists in the world --indeed only four men have ever run faster-- but a major championship has eluded him. That changed in Beijing when the Kenyan took the Olympic crown in a sterling gun-to-tape performance.
“There is not as much pressure now,” he said, “and at the end of the day, I think this will improve my performance. You always focus on something and put yourself under a lot of pressure. But when you’ve achieved what you wanted to achieve, the focus now is to try to run fast.”
The conditions, currently forecast to be on the chilly side, may largely dictate how fast he’ll run at tomorrow’s 32nd Memorial Van Damme, but he’s targeting his season’s best of 1:44.65 which propelled him to the Olympic title.
Brussels will mark his second race since becoming Olympic champion. His first outing, at Tuesday’s Athletissima in Lausanne, was on the tail end of non-stop travel between Beijing, Nairobi, Mombasa, Nairobi and Lausanne.
“I was feeling good, but I didn’t run good,” he said of his Lausanne race, where he faded to fourth over the waning stages, clocking 1:45.31. “I arrived there a little bit tired.”
For that, he could be excused. As the captain of the Kenyan team, he had a non-stop line-up of official celebration activities to attend to, from meeting Kenya’s Vice President, at Kenyatta Airport, to presenting the Kenyan Flag to President Mwai Kibaki in Mombasa.
As the head of the most successful Kenyan squad in Olympic history, that was a particularly momentous moment for Bungei.
“When we left for Beijing, I said that I expected a better performance than Athens, where we had one gold. Little did I know that we would surpass the record in terms of medals.” In 1988, Kenyans took five gold, two silver, and two bronze medals. In Beijing, this time the Kenyan haul included five gold, five silver, four bronze.
“I was proud as being the captain, being able to steer the team to be so successful. It will be a high hurdle for the team for the next Olympics.”
That’s one team Bungei said he most likely won’t be captaining. While he has no intentions of leaving the sport, championship meets are now behind him, he said.
“Concerning the Kenyan trials that we have to do, there’s always a lot of mental torture,” he said, “and I think it’s just going to be a little too difficult. But that is always subject to change. A lot will depend on how I feel before the World championships.”
While Wilson Kipketer’s World record may be out of reach --“Wilson was a great athlete,” Bungei said, “and running 1:41.11 is going to be tough-- he still believes that he can work his way up another notch or two on the all-time list.
“My goal next year is to try for the African record,” Sammy Koskei’s 1:42.28 which a few weeks ago celebrated it’s 24th Anniversary. Bungei came close in Rieti in 2002, clocking 1:42.34.
“I missed it by just .05 seconds. And I know I can still achieve it now. That will really be my main focus.”
Used with permission of Bob Ramsak, http://www.trackprofile.com