David Rudisha of Kenya broke the men's 800m world record yesterday by running 1min, 41.09sec, only minutes after Caster Semenya had returned to the Berlin Olympic Stadium to win the women's race over the same distance.
Rudisha powered home to beat the previous record of 1:41.11 set by Wilson Kipketer, a Kenyan-born runner from Denmark, in Cologne in August 1997.
"I met him last year and he told me, 'I can see you have a future in the 800, you can beat the world record,'" Rudisha said of Kipketer. "He encouraged me to go for it."
Rudisha broke the record at the same stadium where he was just a semi-finalist in the 800m at last year's world championships. "I was very disappointed last year, but the weather was so cold then," said Rudisha, a 21-year-old former world junior champion. "I knew that I would be fast today and that I am in good shape. I was just hoping the weather would be good. It was a bit windy but otherwise it was perfect," he said.
Once the pacemaker dropped out after the first lap, Rudisha ran alone against the clock. "I saw I was inside world record pace in the final straight and I just went for it. This was really the first time I tried to break the record," Rudisha said. "Now my next steps are to win world and Olympic titles. But I can still improve my record."
While Rudisha did not have good memories of his previous visit to Berlin, the Olympic Stadium was the site of Semenya's triumph at the world championships last year. She subsequently missed 11 months of competition while undergoing gender tests.
"I still feel the same but it was not easy for a 19-year-old girl to go through what I've been through," Semenya said after cruising home in 1min 59.90sec to a warm reception from the nearly 50,000-strong crowd. "I ran a good time, I felt at home."
The South African teenager surged ahead in the last 50 metres in her third race since she was cleared to run again last month. She competed in two minor races in Finland before being invited to run in Berlin. Semenya, who hopes to make the South Africa team for the Commonwealth Games in October, was 4.45sec slower than her winning time of 1min 55.45sec in Berlin last year.
Before the start, Semenya said she was only thinking about that race. "That's when I broke the South African record and I was hoping to run fast again," she said.
Semenya was at the back of the pack during the first lap, then started increasing the pace and moving past her rivals. "It's been a long time since I raced a fast race. I just tried to go with them, to feel comfortable. I was just looking for the last 100 metres," she said.
Semenya will now run at the Diamond League final in Brussels on Friday, followed by two meetings in Italy. Her focus will be in preparing to defend her title at next year's world championships in Daegu, South Korea, and then competing at the following year's Olympics in London.
The Berlin meeting has lost the elite Diamond League status, but still produced some good results. Tarike Bekele ran the fastest 3,000m of the year in 7min 28.99sec. Nesta Carter of Jamaica won the men's 100m in 9.96sec. But Steve Hooker of Australia, who won the world title last year, failed to clear a height in the pole vault.