Brussels, BelgiumEven though he had missed beating his World 800m record by just over three tenths of a second five days earlier, David Rudisha looked a calm and contented man here today at an official press conference ahead of Friday’s Belgacom Memorial Van Damme – Samsung Diamond League meeting (16).
There is no disguising the pleasure and relief Rudisha feels about his achievement at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu (27 Aug to 4 Sep), where he confirmed he was a racer as well as a World record holder by winning the 800 metres gold with complete assurance.
Although he is already beginning to address the pressure he will be under to deliver again at the London 2012 Olympics, this thoughtful and quietly spoken 22-year-old who leads the season long 800m Diamond Race looked very buoyant on the eve of the concluding 2011 Samsung Diamond League meeting here as he looked forward to his latest challenge – that of breaking the 14-year-old stadium record in the Belgacom Memorial Van Damme.
That record stands to Rudisha’s predecessor as World record holder, Wilson Kepketer, who ran 1:42.20 at the King Badouin stadium in 1997, his record-breaking year.
“It’s a tough stadium record to bring down, but that is my focus if everything goes well and we have good weather,” said Rudisha, who looked on for what would have been a third World record performance in Rieti on Saturday (10) before faltering very slightly to finish in 1:41.33, 0.32 sec off his best time.
A championship runner
With regard to the latter factor, meeting promoter Wilfried Meert, sitting alongside the tall Kenyan, was quick to add that the weather forecast was promising.
Reflecting on his success in Daegu, Rudisha made it clear that he had been under considerable duress given his failure to manage better than fifth place in the 2009 World Championship final in Berlin, where his warm-up was disrupted by heavy rain.
“It was really a disappointment I had in 2009 in Berlin,” he said. “So I had a lot of pressure coming into 2010 and this last year. After breaking the World record without any title it was really tough for me. All my focus was just on winning this title. There was a lot of expectation from everywhere.”
“I’m happy that at least I handled everything in a good way. I’ve achieved that, and now I feel I feel relieved. Because there were some people beforehand who were starting to say I was not a championship runner. But it’s not like that. Now I have proved I can do it.”
“All this year I have been talking about it, I have been dreaming about it, about how I can do it. So it is something I feel really happy I have done.”
An answer for all racing scenarios
And it was the manner of his achievement – waiting until the last 150 metres before kicking for home ahead of his perennial rival Abubaker Kaki, the double World Indoor champion from Sudan, and the 2004 Olympic champion Yuriy Borzakovskiy – which offered him as much satisfaction as anything else.
“In my final in Daegu I left everything to the last 150 metres,” Rudisha said. “When I looked up at the screen I saw I had already opened the gap, and I still had power to come, more than that.”
“In the first lap I was just cruising. Going to 300 metres, normally I will push there, but I was just trying to keep my energy for the last 150. And that is exactly what I did because I didn’t want to make any mistakes in the final.”
“I knew that I was strong and that I could push for the whole of the last 400. But there was no chance of that because we did two rounds and if I had tried to push too soon maybe in the last 50 metres someone could come. That’s why I kept my effort to the last because the important thing is just to win.”
He agreed that the way he controlled that race has added to his confidence.
“I am very confident running from the front, but the important thing is I am strong,” he said. “I can control the pace, I can push hard, and also I have the speed for the finish, which gives me more confidence, because I can sprint as well even if it is a slow pace.”
London on his mind
It is a frightening prospect indeed for his rivals. But a part of Rudisha’s mind is already preparing for a new and larger challenge.
“It is the end of one thing, and also the beginning of another one,” he said. “I have the world record and I am the World champion. But next year is Olympic year. It is more important for me also to win the Olympics, and I know there will be pressure to go there and get that gold medal.”
“So I think that is another pressure ahead of me. I have never been in the Olympics before. It is going to be my first time there, so I hope it will turn out to be OK. But I don’t think I will have the pressure there I had going into Daegu this year.”
Having watched his most recent race in Rieti, where he set his World record in 2010, Rudisha has identified the significant weakness.
“Everything went as we had planned, but I think I was lacking something in my last 200 metres,” he said. “In my last 100 metres I was completely…I think it was because of the World Championships that I felt a little bit exhausted in the last 200. That’s where I missed the world record. But it was a good race.”
It was indeed, and it underlined the feeling that, sooner rather than later, Rudisha will be the first man to run a sub 1:41sec 800 metres. He, however, remains cautious – just as he was in 2010 before he had set his successive World records.
“It’s really tough to concentrate on two things in the same year,” he said. “This year I was trying to concentrate on the World Championships, and way you run your programme is a little bit different from the way you train for the fast times, because championships are tactical.”
“Last year I was a little bit free, because there was no major championship. So I was training for the fast time. Next year the Olympics are very important and that is what I will focus on. But anything else, if it comes on the way, no problem…”
No thoughts of 1500
Unlike his rival Kaki, who is already considering doubling up over 1500 metres, Rudisha’s thoughts remain with the 800 metres. However, he will consider a minor shift at the end of next season, if all goes according to plan.
“I’m more like a sprinter. I can do the 400/800. But I don’t want to move up at this time because I don’t want anything to affect my training and maybe affect my rhythm in the 800. I don’t want to take any risk.
“I think maybe after the Olympics next year, though, if I have accomplished what I want, I will just try to do something at the end of the year. I want to do maybe one 1000m because I have never done that before. So I want to see how I feel and in the future maybe try 1500.”
It is not meant as a warning – but it sounds like one.
Mike Rowbottom for the Samsung Diamond League