Oh Brother, I've just broken the world record and taken Olympic gold
“Later, I found out that his father Daniel Rudisha, who I remembered from old, because he won the Olympic silver medal, in the 400-metre relay, in Mexico City, so I knew then that genetically I was not too far wrong.”
Brother O’Connell suspected Rudisha’s potential lay over 800m, and it wasn’t long before he was proven right: “At the end of that first camp, after three or four weeks, he was fairly fit, and what I do is take them down to the stadium, for a sort of fun run, just to see do they gain anything through the training.
“I knew he was a 200m, 400m runner. So I said try the 800m. At that time we also had the national school champion, who I thought would be a good measure, and David beat him, running 1:49.6. Now, I didn’t say anything to him at the time, because I was a little bit mesmerised. I just thought to myself, ‘this kid looks okay, for his first time’, then let it store for a little while.”
That stadium, by the way, is at 8,000 feet, an old dirt track – and there was further proof of this potential when just a year later he won the World Junior title, before, in 2010, twice breaking the world record, lowering it to 1:41.01.
It helped considerably that Rudisha had found the same man who coached Wilson Kipketer to the previous world record of 1:41.11. “For sure, he is a very good coach, but he’s also a teacher, knew exactly what I needed to learn about the event. And it was really hard at first. Because I come from low altitude, in the long runs, sometimes I couldn’t survive,” says Rudisha.
“Even some of the girls were beating me. Then I got to know about fartlek, running 40 or 50 minutes, even one hour. So I learned a lot at that time.”
Completing the cycle
Against that backdrop came London, and having gone unbeaten in 2010, and losing only once in 2011, many people had already put the gold medal around his neck. Rudisha’s front-running tactic, leading every step of the way, as devastating as it could be, is not ideal for championship running, and no man had ever held the world record and World and Olympic titles at the same time.
“Well for sure, it was the only thing we were waiting for. We’d set out to achieve those other goals, managed to achieve both of those, so coming into 2012, we were completing the cycle, by setting out to achieve the Olympic title.
“And I was very, very focused all year. Because I knew what was at stake, coming to the championships like the Olympics, You don’t want to wait another four years for your next try. But all I was telling people was that I would try for the gold medal, never once talked about the record.”
Deep down, O’Connell suspected Rudisha might need to run a world record to win gold in London, or at least go close, and with that in mind introduced slight adjustments to the training, and a sparse yet specific racing programme.
“True, we kind of weaned out the pace setters,” he says, “because we knew in the Olympics David would be on his own. In the past Sammy Tangui would pace a lot of his training sessions, but not this year. David trained alone, most of the time.
“Then we had just four races before London. In Doha, he ran 1:43.10, first race. Then 1:41.74 in New York, two weeks later. We knew everything was on track, then at the Kenyan trials, in Nairobi, he ran 1:42.12, (the fastest ever at altitude), which is certainly equal to 1:41. Then he went to Paris, three weeks before the Olympics, and again, 1:41.54. So all those races combined we knew he was in 1:41 shape.”
Clearly, he’d done all the conditioning work, and yet all this careful planning could be easily undone if conditions in London weren’t right: Rudisha’s racing style, his 6ft 3in frame, could be easily blown off course on a windy evening, and he’s never liked running in the cold or rain (his defeat on a wet night in Zurich at the end of season proof of that).