The sporting decade that was: 101 seconds cap a life’s work

David Rudisha took the 800m where no athlete had gone before, or since

August 9th 2012 London Olympics: David Rudisha’s 800m world record run

London calling back – and in the now long since suspended belief around the 2012 Olympics there is still one man running two laps of the track in less than 101 seconds. And his name is David Rudisha.

It takes something special to hold an entire stadium enthralled, even for 101 seconds, with a sense of wonder and wow. Rudisha did exactly that on a warm evening in August, taking the 800 metres where no athlete had gone before, or since.

Sitting in the press seats in the London Olympic Stadium that evening, the pressure on Rudisha is palpable – no man had ever held the world record and world and Olympic titles at the same time. Rudisha was looking for the first clean sweep in one of the hardest of running events: the 800m has been likened to the killing- zone of the deep-sea diver, such is the depth of oxygen deprivation.

Some 4,000 miles away in Kenya, his coach Br Colm O'Connell – the Irish missionary who first discovered his talent – is watching on a TV screen in his small concrete house in the grounds of St Patrick's High School in Iten. All the work, mental and physical, has already been done and dusted.


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 in hitting the front from the starting gun he was immediately set up to fail.

Deep down, O’Connell suspected Rudisha might need to run a world record to win gold in London, or at least go close. Every last stride in training was tailored for this moment, and Rudisha never once looked back – the look on his face as he crossed the line was proof that winning was the most important thing too, as it was a moment later before he realises the clock has stopped at 1:40.91.

From number one to number eight, all ran a personal best. Some belief in running has been further suspended in the years since – in Kenya too – but it can’t take from that moment. Running similar tactics, Rudisha defended his Olympic title in 2016, but to win in London he reached his and the athletics zenith of the decade.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics