David Rudisha’s World Record last night had the world abuzz. David led from the front from the first step and did not look back. His World record of 1:40.91 has been, so far, the performance of the meet.
David Rudisha’s Midas Touch
by Jon Gugala
August 10, 2012
LONDON – There comes a point in every extended track meet like the Olympics that you as a writer hit the saturation point. You stare at the blinking cursor, willing it to hypnotize you into a subconscious state, which will be the only way that you’ll find something to write about under deadline. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
But all it takes to break free, apparently, is one transcendent race.
Thursday night we witnessed the single most incredible accomplishment of the Olympic Games, athletics or otherwise. David Rudisha set a world record performance in 800-meter run, earning gold in 1 minute, 40.91 seconds, leading start to finish.
Michael Phelps? Man, (blank) Michael Phelps.
Rudisha came into the Olympics with both the current world record and the previous one, and he’s run 1:41.xx twice already this year, so you could hardly call him a dark horse. But championship races are screwy and unpredictable, and when in doubt, most world record-holders just go for the win (case in point: Rudisha’s 2011 World Championships win in 1:43.91). Why risk it and blow up? There’s little to gain by going for the world record and so, so much to lose. Even world record-holder Ashton Eaton would lay up for the win in the decathlon rather than risking a misfire.
But there was no doubt from the gun what Rudisha’s plan was. The only question was if he could do it.
Rudisha went out hard, taking the lead and dragging the pack of eight men single-file through an opening 400m in 49.28. It must have been peculiar for him to see a split like that and nothing but virgin track ahead; in all of his records, he’s been rabitted through 400-500m by compatriot Sammy Tangui. He would sink or swim without the aid of training wheels.
The pack stretched out behind him, but there was no break; where Rudisha would go, so would the rest. American Duane Solomon, who was coming off a big PR at Monaco in July, was in fourth; U.S. trials winner Nick Symmonds, who clocked a near PR in the same Monaco race, was tucked in his customary spot at the back. And that was at least refreshing to see: Even though some of that lead group knew they were on a suicide mission, they still went.
It was in the backstretch of that final lap that Rudisha began pulling away. Going into the last bend, he had a five meters; entering the final 100m, he had a few more. Even in the last 25 meters, when even a world record-holder starts to tie up, there was nothing to be done; Rudisha was alone.
With his record-breaking race, Rudisha single-handedly saved the morale of Kenya.
These Olympic Games have been rough to the distance powerhouse after they were shut out of the medals in the men’s 10,000m and 1500m and the women’s steeplechase, settling for Ezekiel Kemboi’s shenanigans in the steeplechase. Rudisha has thus-far been only their second gold medal, but it counted all the more (possibly because Rudisha is not facing prison after stabbing somebody, unlike Kemboi). And though there’s still more racing to be done in the women’s 800m and the men’s and women’s 5,000m, even if another gold is not won (unlikely, but hey, Kenya’s been off her game this year), I can’t think that there won’t be at least some satisfaction with Rudisha’s achievement.
But what was so special about Rudisha’s performance was that it wasn’t just the best day for him; it was the best day for every man in that race, and not just the medalists.
When Rudisha set an all-comers record in the States at the adidas Grand Prix, his was a great performance followed by the rest of the pack straggling in, hoping for an Olympic “A” of sub-1:45.60. And it was the same way at the Paris Diamond League in July: Rudisha vs. himself, and oh, yeah, I guess the rest of the pack somewhere back there. But in the Olympic final, only one man, Sudan’s Abubaker Kaki, didn’t set a Personal Best or national record (though it was a season best). In silver, Botswana’s Nijel Amos in 1:41.73, was also under the previous Olympic record, and the bronze went to 17-year-old Timothy Kitum of Kenya in 1:42.53. By place, there’s never been a fast 800m ever. Think about this: the U.K.’s Andrew Osagie ran 1:43.77 for last place.
America’s Duane Solomon, the guy that started this year with a 1:45.23 best from back in 2010, incredibly finished fourth in 1:42.82 (over three seconds faster than his season best of 1:45.86 last year). And Nick Symmonds, who continues to confound the critics that cite his small stature as a hindrance for a truly great 800m racer, was fifth in 1:42.95, a best by nearly a second. They become the second- and third-fastest Americans ever at the distance with the fourth- and fifth-fastest times ever, and Solomon was just .22 seconds off his coach Johnny Gray’s American record. (Take that, those who say that the just don’t build them like they used to. They build them better.)
History was made on Thusday night, and it has outshone the rest of the athletics competition. It sure broke me out of my funk. How can you not gush over a race that seems unlikely to ever be repeated, and leaves a legacy that will be cited thousands of times before it can ever hope to be challenged? Hell, I’m feeling so optimistic that I may even choose cover the 50K race walk tomorrow. If 1:40.91 is possible in the 800m, then nothing’s out of the question.