Simon Turnbull: Fastest man over two laps hopes to outdo mentor Coe
Friday 05 August 2011
So there was David Rudisha, the man who succeeded Usain Bolt as World Athlete of the Year, sitting in a Croydon hotel yesterday, being pressed on the subject of slaughter. "It's just a traditional way of welcoming," the 22-year-old Kenyan said of the homecoming he was afforded after breaking the world 800m record twice on the European circuit in August last year. "They slaughter a herd of cattle, almost 50. They make you a leader."
They do indeed. Rudisha is now a Maasai warrior, having been presented with an elemet, the tribe's traditional spear, and an elongo, a shield. Not that he has required either implement as he has gone about the business of slaughtering the opposition in the 800m.
Rudisha lines up for the two-lap event on the opening night of the Aviva London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace tonight on an unbeaten streak of 29 races, stretching back to August 2009 and the World Championship semi-finals in Berlin. With his 6ft 3in frame, he cuts an imposing enough figure without Maasai weaponry – reminiscent of Alberto Juantorena, the Cuban who, in the famous words of Ron Pickering (often mistakenly attributed to David Coleman), "opened his legs and showed his class" en route to the 400m-800m double at the Montreal Olympics in 1976.
Rudisha has shown his class by emulating Juantorena, Sebastian Coe, Wilson Kipketer and Lon Myers as a two-time world-record breaker at 800m. In Berlin on 22 August last year he clocked 1min 41.09sec, slicing 0.02sec from the global mark set in 1997 by the Kenyan-born, Danish-naturalised Kipketer. A week later, in the Italian town of Rieti, he lowered the record to 1:41.01.
Despite Rudisha's build, it is the featherweight Coe rather than the giant Juantorena that the Kenyan has striven to emulate, having studied videos of the all-time greats on YouTube. "The only difference between us is the structure," he ventured to suggest. "If you see the way Sebastian used to run, he was small, yes, but he was a really strong athlete.
"In his world records he was really strong, pushing in the last 200m all the way. That is how I developed. I decided that if you want to break the world record you have to push from a fast first lap all of the way, without slowing in any part.
"I like watching videos on YouTube of Sebastian Coe and all those old great athletes. That has boosted my way of running. I have studied their techniques, styles and tactics and adapted my way of running from there.
"I met Sebastian Coe when I broke his stadium record in Oslo last year. He congratulated me and said, 'You are the future of 800m. If you keep focused and train hard, you are capable of breaking the world record'. This is my first time in London and it is so special to me that the Olympics are going to be in the country of Sebastian Coe. Since he has become my friend, we have been talking together and he has been encouraging me."
Lord Coe, chairman of LOCOG, the local organising committee for the 2012 Games, won two Olympic golds at 1500m but was twice a runner-up at 800m. If his YouTube student – softly spoken and highly articulate for a warrior – were to emerge victorious from the two-lap event in London next year, it would be another triumph for the remarkable Brother Colm O'Connell.
The Irish missionary has been nurturing middle and long-distance running talent at St Patrick's Boys' School in Iten ever since Peter Foster – younger brother of Olympic 10,000m bronze medallist Brendan Foster – educated him in the rudiments of coaching while working at "St Pat's" for Voluntary Services Overseas.
Brother Colm has produced four Olympic gold medal winners already. The quiet warrior of the 800m looks like being No 5.
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