Kenya's Olympic champion David Rudisha put three difficult years behind him and trusted his finishing pace to regain the world 800 metres title at the Bird's Nest on Tuesday.
Still not back at his best after the knee injury that cost him his chance to defend the world title in 2013, the 26-year-old kicked for home at the end of the back straight and held on to win gold in one minute 45.84 seconds.
The strain of the last 50 metres was clear on his face as he held off Pole Adam Kszczot and there were no huge smiles from the quietly-spoken world record holder after crossing the line, just a single finger raised to the sky in celebration.
“This is really special for me,” he told reporters. “Despite the fact that I was coming from a bad injury that almost pushed me out of my career ... to be back here and to prove to the world that I can win the world championships it means a lot.”
After being exposed by faster finishers a few times since his return from the injury, Rudisha raced out to the front and tried to control the pace.
“The race today was more tactical, I was not going for anything fast,” he said.
“I know for the last month I have been working on my speed and I was very confident coming here and I knew that if the pace is slow I could win the championships.”
In the absence of defending champion Mohammed Aman of Ethiopia and London Olympic silver medallist Nijel Amos, who both failed to reach the final, Kszczot won silver in 1.46.08 courtesy of his strong finish.
“It is not gold but I can’t be unhappy with this awesome silver,” said the Pole.
“It is hard to fight against the world record holder but I think he was possible to beat.”
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Amel Tuka, who has slashed more than three seconds off his personal best this year, finished third in 1.46.30 to win a first world championship medal for his country.
“It is like a big dream come true,” said Tuka. “I am really proud for my people and I know they will be celebrating now.”
The 24-year-old had clocked the fastest 800m of the year in 1.42.51 but the list of the best runs of all time is still topped by the astonishing 1.40.91 that Rudisha ran to win the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics.
That was before his injury, however, and Rudisha admitted he had thought at times that he would never regain the devastating pace he displayed that evening in London.
“At some point, when I had the keyhole surgery, I thought maybe, if I come back I won’t be at that top level,” said Rudisha.
“The support I’ve been getting from my coach, my family and friends I think it motivated me to come back again strong.”
Rudisha said he would run twice more this season before focusing on the preparations for his Olympic title defence in Rio de Janeiro next year.