Rudisha's thrilling run reverberates all the way to Kenya
MEN'S 800 METRES FINAL:LONDON CALLING – and Brother Colm O’Connell answers the phone while driving the short distance from St Patrick’s High School to the Kerio View Hotel, on the high verges of the Great Rift Valley.
It’s just after 10pm, local Kenyan time, and just minutes earlier Brother Colm had been sitting in his small house in the grounds of St Patrick’s watching on an old flickering television as his star pupil, David Rudisha, brought all 80,000 of us inside the Olympic Stadium to our feet in utter admiration of the man who just ran 800 metres in 1:40.91.
“Well, we were expecting something special,” starts Brother Colm, as modest as ever, and yet with traces of great satisfaction in his voice.
“But yes, it was perfect, beautiful style, and no pace-setting. But then I always had an inkling he was thinking along that line, but we didn’t put it as a priority. The gold medal was always the priority. So the world record, and it’s a funny thing to say, was only a bonus.
“And yes, I was watching here in my sitting room, with just some of the younger athletes too. When you work with an athlete like David, I think the two of us have quite a similar personality. I knew he celebrated in a big way there, but at the same time, he’s a very cool character, and keeps his feet on the ground. He’s a nice guy.”
And now the first man in history to hold the world record, and both the Olympic and World 800m titles: their plan was to run the first lap in 49 seconds, which he did (49.28), but no one could have predicted what happened after that.
The only fear Rudisha had coming to London was the weather: he does not like running when it’s cold, or raining, and definitely not when it’s windy. Well, it was just like one of those beautiful calm evenings in Iten, at 8,000 feet, where together they’d prepared as diligently as possible.
“That good weather lifted his spirits as well. He felt great this morning, and felt great going down to the stadium this evening. During the day I know he was very relaxed, and when I saw him in front of the cameras I knew he was very relaxed.
“But he also ran a very even paced race, as easy as you can run in the 800 metres. Certainly it was one of the performances of the night. He brought the crowd to their feet. He’s such a great performer like that.”
And yet he needed to be, the 18-year-old Nijel Amos from Botswana winning silver in 1:41.73, with fellow teenager Timothy Kitum from Kenya, only 17, third in 1:42.53. On the night that made for one sub 1:40; one sub 1:41; three sub 1:42s, three sub 1:44s; all eight finalists ran sub 1:44; seven of the eight running personal bests.
“And by the way, that Timothy Kitum is mine too,” Brother Colm informs me. “He spent some time in my youth camp. So overall I’d put this race up there as one of the very greatest. Can you imagine a guy running 1:41.73, and only winning silver?
“And of course we watched Katie Taylor winning earlier in the day. So a great night for Ireland winning an Olympic gold medal, and now this little Irish connection with Rudisha.
“I hope it all lifts Irish spirits, and everyone has a nice celebration. It’s great to see Ireland picking up some medals.”
Then Brother Colm stops me and says: “I’m just at the hotel now, and sure I might just have a small one.”
And so might we.