By Ed Osmond
LONDON, June 12 (Reuters) – David Rudisha will not try to steal Usain Bolt’s limelight at the London Olympics but the humble Kenyan 800 meters runner has the pedigree to light up the track in a very different style to the great Jamaican sprinter.
In eight summer days in 2010, the tall and languid Rudisha did something twice that nobody else had achieved for 13 years.
He smashed the seemingly unbreakable 800 meters world record of one minute 41.11 seconds set by Denmark’s Wilson Kipketer in 1997 and the following week he lowered the mark again to 1:41.01.
The 23-year-old Rudisha has dominated the event since and after running a blistering 1:41.74 in New York on Saturday he will be overwhelming favorite to add the Olympic gold medal in London to the world title he claimed in South Korea last year.
It has not always been plain sailing for the athlete whose father Daniel was the first Maasai to compete at the Olympics and won a relay silver in Mexico City in 1968.
Rudisha junior started out as a 400 meters runner but was persuaded to switch to the longer distance by Irishman Colm O’Connell who coaches at the famous St Patrick’s High School in Kenya’s Rift Valley where Rudisha’s talent was nurtured.
He won the world junior title in Beijing in 2006, earning the nickname “Pride of Africa”, but missed the 2008 Olympics through injury and failed to reach the world championship final in Berlin in 2009 when he got boxed in during the semi-final.
His fortunes changed in a big way in 2010, however, with a world-record time of 1:41.09 in Berlin followed eight days later by an even faster run in Rieti, Italy.
Rudisha was named the IAAF’s World Athlete of the Year for 2010 ahead of Bolt and the pair look destined to sparkle on the London track in contrasting ways.
While Bolt is dripping in charisma and delights the crowds with dramatic poses and flashing smiles, the softly-spoken Rudisha shuns publicity.
“I love my tribe, the Maasai are very good people and humble,” he said. “Going to the Olympics as a Maasai I want to make them proud because after the warm welcome they gave me when I went back and being their leader I want to also be the warrior in the Olympics.
“That will be something good because that will be the first Olympic gold medal for the Maasai.”
Rudisha will be running for his tribe and his country in London and he also has a score to settle for the last two 800 meters world-record holders.
Neither Kipketer nor Briton Sebastian Coe, the man in charge of the London Games, won Olympic gold at 800 meters and Rudisha said he hoped to triumph in the stadium which Coe personally showed him round last year.
“I think it’s high time for me to achieve that to satisfy us all,” he said.