He tracked him, stalked him, for more than 700 metres – biding his time until the perfect moment -and when Nijel Amos caught sight of the finish line in Lausanne tonight, he emerged from the slipstream of his great rival David Rudisha, powered past, and won the 800m in 1:43.27.
It was a performance of astute tactical judgment from the 21-year-old Botswanan, who will now race in Monaco and London before going to Beijing in late August to try win his first world title. On tonight’s evidence, there’s every chance he will do so.
“I’m very happy,” he said afterwards. “I’ll go [to Beijing] to do my best and like today, I’ll fight till the very last metre of the race.”
In tonight’s race, Dutch pacemaker Bram Som brought the field through 200m in 24 seconds and passed the bell in 49.93, some five metres clear of Rudisha, who led the main pack. That, right there, was the first sign of vulnerability in the Kenyan’s usually invincible form.
The pace was not a particularly fast one, but he either chose not to go with it or he quite simply couldn’t go with it. Instead, Rudisha went through 400m outside 50 seconds, with Amos right behind him, stalking him as they rounded the bend into the back straight.
When Som stepped aside with 300m remaining, Rudisha was left in a familiar position at the front and just like at London 2012 – where Rudisha broke the world record when winning Olympic gold – it was Amos and Aman who followed him, trying to hold on for dear life.
Of the three, cracks first appeared on the face of Mohammed Aman, who allowed the leading duo to open a five-metre lead with 250m to run.
Rudisha passed 600m in a swift 1:16.35 but try as he might, he just couldn’t shake the presence of Amos, who ran directly behind the big Kenyan until just 80m from the finish.
It was then that Amos moved wide and, with his head strained back and arms flailing wildly, he powered past Rudisha, who faded badly over the last 50 metres. At the finish, which Amos reached in 1:43.28, he had three metres to spare over his Kenyan rival.
Amos had to be helped through the mixed zone after appearing to injure himself but as he explained, it was nothing too serious. “I had a bit of discomfort in my quad at the end of the race,” he said. “That’s why I was limping out of the stadium, but I don’t think it’s anything bad.”
Last month in Birmingham, Amos was asked about Rudisha’s recent injury absence, and the Botswanan was most gracious in wishing a speedy return to his Kenyan rival. “Every day I pray for him to recover,” he said. “I know what it’s like to be injured. He will be back strong. In athletics it’s all about helping each other. For me to run fast, I need Rudisha. I need him in the field.”
Tonight, he got his wish, but a world record was never going to be on the agenda. This early in the season – still six weeks out from the major championship – the athlete who is in peak shape is one who has overcooked it far too early.
Tonight, in Amos and Rudisha, we saw two athletes who were running close to their best, but had still undoubtedly left much to work on over the coming month before renewing rivalry in Beijing.
Right now, Amos is top of the 800m pecking order, his finish tonight simply too strong for Rudisha and the rest of the field, but much can change in the next six weeks.
“The race didn’t go as planned,” said Rudisha, “but I’m happy. Now I have to get back to the drawing table and work on my last 100 metres.”
Rudisha, of course, is a champion, and champions have an ability to always find more inspiration and improvement in defeat than victory.
Undoubtedly, he will be back in Beijing, and he’ll be ready. Then again, so will Amos.
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