Kenya’s David Lekuta Rudisha celebrates his win in the men’s 800-meter final during the athletics in the Olympic Stadium at the 2012 Summer Olympics, London, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012. Rudisha set a new world record with a time of 1:40.91. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
By Nick Mulvenney
LONDON, Aug 9 (Reuters) – David Rudisha lit up Thursday evening with an 800m world record but despite running one of the great Olympic races, he was eclipsed an hour later when Usain Bolt took to the track.
The softly-spoken Kenyan is far too polite ever to express any resentment, and probably too gracious a man to harbor any, but he did reveal that he had spoken to the Jamaican sprinter about possibly going head-to-head on the track.
“He used to run 400 meters,” Rudisha told a news conference. “I also run 400 meters early in the season and we were just making fun, and saying that maybe just one time we should race over 400m and see who wins, it would be great.
“Usain Bolt is the greatest sprinter I have ever seen. People love Bolt because of his great achievements. I knew if I could do something special tonight, it would be great for me.”
After singlehandedly rescuing the two-lap race from the domination of tactical sprint finishers, there are some who believe that Rudisha should be as big a name as Bolt.
Rudisha shattered Wilson Kipketer’s 13-year-old world record in 2010 and improved it again the following week as he went unbeaten at 34 meetings until the end of last season.
His sensational 2010 saw him succeed Bolt as IAAF world athlete of the year but the difference in profile between the pair is not difficult to explain when you have spent any time in their company.
Bolt is athletics as Rock ‘n’ Roll, oozing charisma, striking dramatic poses before and after his races, speaking confidently to the media and surrounded in public by a posse of assistants and advisers.
The only thing remotely showy about Rudisha is a slender gold chain around his neck and he makes much of the humility of his Maasai tribe.
While Bolt was setting the athletics world alight by winning the sprint double in Beijing, Rudisha, already world junior champion, was at home in Kenya nursing an injury and doing his school exams.
That might have been a blessing in disguise, he said.
“Sometimes when you get disappointments, it can make you stronger going forward,” he said. “Because I was still young, I did not get discouraged, I knew there would be other Olympics.
“I was happy, perhaps if I had won the Olympic Games at such a young age, maybe I couldn’t have handled the pressure.”
Now he has added the Olympic title to the world title he won in Daegu last year, Rudisha thinks it will not be long before he betters the world record of one minute 40.91 he ran on Thursday.
“Nobody has ever done the world record in the 800m without pace-setting,” he said.
“I thought it was going to be difficult today. But I was very determined. In the heats, I could see the track was fast and I was just praying for perfect weather.
“It was incredible to break the record, but I was a little bit tired after the heats and semi-finals.
“If I can get to a race in perfect conditions and fresh, I think I can even improve on that.”
Rudisha’s father Daniel was the first athlete from their Maasai tribe to compete at an Olympics and won a silver in the 4x400m relay in Mexico in 1968.
His 23-year-old son was delighted to go one better.
“Even before the start of the race, I was thinking about my father watching on television,” Rudisha said.
“He couldn’t come here, of course, but I know that he is always proud of me.
“He’s a big inspiration in my career, he won the silver medal and I have always been dreaming to add to, or even to better it. I wanted to go a step ahead.
“He wanted to break the world record in the 400m, he couldn’t do it, but for his son to come and do it is a great achievement.”