For all Usain Bolt achieved at London 2012, for all the iconic events of “Super Saturday” when Britain celebrated three gold medals, one performance still stands out above the rest, the finest piece of middle-distance running ever witnessed.For one minute 40.91 seconds in the 800m, David Rudisha seemed to glide effortlessly for two laps of the Olympic Stadium, the Kenyan making the rest of the finalists, who were dragged around to personal bests, look like mere mortals.
The intervening years have been more about a broken body than any aspirations to break any more records. First a knee injury that required surgery wrote off Rudisha’s 2013 season and, after a painfully slow rehab programme, his body broke down once more last season with a calf problem.
It left the world wondering whether Rudisha would ever again attain those heights of London. It is a moot point whether he will ever get back to world record pace but Rudisha, in his quietly modest manner, has begun to exude the sense that slowly, steadily he is edging back to his imperious best.
Today will be an acid test as he comes face to face with Nijel Amos, whose ungainly running style is in stark contrast to the grace of his rival but has been immensely successful.
Amos, a colourful character who in his free time performs as a DJ in his native Botswana under the name DJ Zoroski, was victorious when the pair met earlier this month in Lausanne. But returning to the Olympic Stadium for the Anniversary Games, Rudisha is hopeful of keeping the young pretender at bay.
In Lausanne, Rudisha lacked a sprint finish, the lactic acid build-up proving his downfall, yet on the dirt track in Iten, Kenya, where he moulded his London 2012 success, the sprint sessions have begun again.
“In most of my races, as you may know, I’m a front-runner so it’s always difficult to know that somebody’s behind because they can easily calculate my speed because they’re coming from behind,” he explained. “My weakness has been in the last 100 metres, where I don’t find my power for finishing, but I know that I’ll get there with my good training that I’ve been doing, especially the last few weeks.
“I’m happy for the first time since 2012 we’re able to move to 200s and 150s [in training] which I did very well and successfully without feeling any pain in my calf.”
Already in 2015 the contrast with the past two seasons is there, the 26-year-old able to unleash a trademark early 400m race at his opening training camp in Australia to test his speed work.
Rudisha returning to form is a mouthwatering prospect, and his rivalry with Amos, 21, should be one of the most eye-catching – as long as both men can stay fit.
Of that rivalry, Rudisha says: “I know him as a friend and he’s a nice young guy… and I know he’s a good runner because he’s the one that’s been giving me a challenge last year and this year.”
Might Rudisha need to adapt his approach from always leading out from start to finish, with the fast-finishing Amos now regularly eclipsing him?
Rudisha argues, albeit unconvincingly, that he could do so if necessary. “I’m comfortable running from behind and even running in a tactical race,” he said. “I know I have power to sprint the last 100 metres as that’s where I originally started from before changing in 2009.
“In my last competition, last year in Zurich, I ran from behind and I tried to push but I wasn’t strong enough; but at least it was good for me to remind myself where I started from. I might change tactics as I want to do what suits me most.”
It is a plan that will be formulated by the Patrician Brother Colm O’Connell, an Irish missionary turned schoolteacher turned coach who has overseen the duration of Rudisha’s career.
For the pair, who live next door to one another at the famous St Patrick’s School where O’Connell helped to uncover some of Kenya’s best middle and long-distance talent, the time since the duo’s crowning glory has been difficult. “It’s very tough mentally, physically when you want to go out, do your training properly but you have an injury not giving you the confidence,” said the Olympic 800m champion. “Sometimes you go out there and plan to do a certain type of session but in the middle don’t feel comfortable and have to stop.
“Another thing we worried about was not pushing too hard or else forgetting we have the problem. Every time we train, we try to listen to the knee and, whenever I don’t feel comfortable, I stop there rather than pushing too hard and then worsening it.”
But such setbacks appear in the past, the old Rudisha once more re-emerging. “This year I can say that, compared to the last two years, I’m really coming nicely. My form is not bad, I only need to find the rhythm. It’s a matter of tuning, the form is almost there.”
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