David Rudisha on pace to be back on track after injury

The 800 metre Olympic champion and his Irish coach are plotting a comeback


For a man who recently surrendered his World Championship title, seen a couple of youngsters start nibbling at his world record, and is still nursing a nagging knee injury, David Rudisha looks and sounds perfectly calm and relaxed – not that he ever sounds any other way.

It doesn’t seem to bother Rudisha that he hasn’t run a step in three months, won’t be back training until December, and is limited to some stationary cycling or a gentle swim, primarily to keep his weight down.

It must help that the man beside him is Brother Colm O’Connell, possibly the calmest and most relaxed coach in the history of distance running, if not the most successful. Together, they orchestrated the single most exhilarating moment of last summer’s London Olympics – Rudisha winning the 800 metres in a world record of 1:40.91, while Brother O’Connell watched from his small concrete house back in Iten, Kenya, as their training plan and race tactic unfolded to perfection.

They visited Ireland together a few weeks later, too, with Rudisha showing off his Olympic gold medal, while his Irish coach received an honorary degree from DCU. They enjoyed the trip so much that they’ve come back, this time to help promote tomorrow’s Galway-Kenya run.

It’s not quite the celebratory tour this time, although none of the schools they’ve been visiting around Galway seem to care, as Rudisha is once again given a heroic welcome. The reality is he’s some way off the athlete of 12 months ago, having sat out most of the summer with a knee injury first noticed while running around Central Park, at the start of June, after winning the New York Diamond League meeting.

They left it as long as possible before Rudisha and Brother O’Connell agreed that the World Championships in Moscow were a non-runner, or simply not worth risking a more serious knee injury. So they both watched from Kenya, as 19-year-old Mohammed Aman took Rudisha’s world title, and followed up last Friday, in Brussels, with an Ethiopian record of 1:42.37. If Rudisha needed any further incentive to get back, Aman’s performance last Friday probably provided it, although he’s not going to rush things either – especially considering 2014 is not exactly a priority year in global athletics.

“So far so good, the injury is getting better, with good improvement,” says Rudisha. “But we still want to take our time . . . and get everything well first. So plan is to make sure everything is okay, then start back to proper training in late November or early December.

‘No running’
“But for now there is no running, or major training, no, that might impact on the knee, and put any pressure on it. But I’ve been doing some cycling in gym, and some swimming also. Just to keep some aerobic fitness, moving forward, and also keep my weight down, this kind of stuff, so that when I do start back training, there will be somewhere to start from.”

Brother O’Connell explains that Rudisha’s knee started “catching” a little bit, back in June, and has since been diagnosed as a floating ligament, probably necessitating keyhole surgery, later in the year, pending the outcome of another MRI. “The injury has certainly come round a lot in the last three months,” says Brother O’Connell, “but whether he has the operation or not, we want to give him all the time he needs to recover.”

What is certain – talking to them both – is that the injury may prove a blessing in disguise, affording Rudisha some downtime after four hectic summers, where he broke the world 800m record three times in all, won the 2009 world title in Daegu, clocked seven of the 12 fastest times in history, and topped it all off with gold in London.

‘Be patient’
“Well, it was very difficult, and disappointing, to miss a major championship like Moscow,” says Rudisha, “and especially when you are the defending champion. And I had prepared very well to be ready for Moscow. Everything was well, I started my season very well (running 1:43.87, in Doha), but just then I got this problem, with my knee. But as an athlete, you just have to take these things as they come, be patient, because anything can happen in sport.

“I think also that the last four years have been at a very, very high level, very high quality, and sometimes the body will say, ‘okay, now I am tired’, or ‘I need some rest’. And I do think it was good to get some rest, so when I start again, I will be very fresh, to move on.

“Sometimes it’s difficult, with any injury, to know how soon it will heal completely, and how it will respond after. But the way things are looking, now, everything should be okay, and we will be able to resume the training quite soon. But I am very positive about the next few years. I really believe I can get back there. Even this year I was thinking about doing better, maybe even improving my time. So I believe, when I get back, I can do even better, am expecting some more improvement . . . ”

Brother O’Connell agrees on both counts – although his task is a little different from last year, instead of trying to bring Rudisha back down to earth after London, he must start bringing him back up.

“Well I never left the ground too far,” he says. “I wasn’t even in London. But part of a coach’s job is to keep his athletes on the ground, if they go too high. Or to bring them up, if they go too low. I certainly appreciated London, and all the highs and recognition, but my job is to keep it an athlete on the level. If anything my role has reversed now, because I must get David’s spirits up again, off the ground.

“He had some injuries before, in 2008, as a young athlete, missing the Beijing Olympics, also a little injury in 2011, and he got over that. But it’s not just the physical implications. Also getting the mind back on track can be difficult. That will be a test, is never easy. Of course, if this happened 12 months earlier, it would have been a catastrophe. So at least he got injured in the right year.”

The purpose of their visit to Galway is two-fold: to help motivate and inspire schoolchildren, and to help promote the Kenyan Association in Galway, who first dreamed up the idea of bringing them to the west.

Rudisha will be on hand at the Galway-Kenya charity run, at the Regional Sports Centre, Dangan, where members of the public have an opportunity to run, walk (or crawl) a timed 800m, going off every 10 minutes, from 1pm to 3.30pm tomorrow, with Rudisha then starting a celebrity 800m at 4.20pm. For full details see www.galwaykenyarun.com