Updated 14 July 2012
David Lekuta RUDISHA, Kenya (800m)
Born: 17 December 1988, Kilgoris, Trans Mara District, Rift Valley Province
Coach: Brother Colm O’Connell
Manager: James Templeton
Height: 190 cm (6’3’’)
In one electrifying week in 2010, Rudisha ascended to the throne of 800 metres after twice breaking the World record to crown a memorable season, in which he proved his credentials as the new star of middle distance running.
His graceful and fluid running style, complete with long strides earned him the iconic nickname ‘Pride of Africa’ (also the motto of national air carrier, Kenya Airways) during the 2006 World Junior Championships in Beijing. Fours year later, Rudisha lived up to his moniker by becoming the first African to hold the World record over the distance after shattering a 13-year-old record held by Dane Wilson Kipketer.
On 22 August, Rudisha raced to a new World mark of 1:41.09 breaking Kipketer’s record by 0.02 seconds. Then in Rieti a week later, the lanky 21 year old bettered that mark with a new personal best time of 1:41.01 to complete a remarkable season in which he was unbeaten in 14 races. You had to go back to the semi-finals of the 2009 World Athletics Championships for his last defeat.
Son of 1968 Olympic 4x400m relay silver, medallist Daniel Rudisha, the younger Rudisha got the athletics buzz from his famous parent who showed him his Olympic medal when he was younger to spur him to great things. “I realised I could run after finding out that my dad used to run and it gave me the morale that if he did it then maybe I could also run,” the younger Rudisha says. “He made me so proud because I knew he could do it,” said the elder Rudisha, who was overcome with emotion as his son brought home the junior gold.
David started running seriously in 2004, while in the last year of his primary school education, making it to the district and provisional levels, but never to the nationals. Then, he was competing in decathlon.
In 2005, he linked up with veteran Irish coach, Brother Colm O’Connell, of St Patrick’s School in Iten, who enrolled him at the nearby St Francis Kamuron School for his secondary education so he could train on the grounds of St Patrick’s. That year, he represented Kenya at the East Africa Youth Championships over 400m in Arusha, Tanzania, where he clinched silver in 48.2. Having observed him in training, O’Connell advised him to switch to 800m, or at least double at both events, and a new star was born.
In 2006, Rudisha finished sixth at the senior African Championship trials at Kasarani, setting his then personal best of 1:46.3. Weeks later, he sealed his place at the national junior team for the World Junior Championships in Beijing, running 1:47.20 at the event’s trials in Nairobi.
In the Chinese capital, Rudisha blasted to glory in style. Running in his first ever two-lap race away from home, he was quietly confident as he waited for his opportunity.
“The competition would be stiff because the Bahrain athlete Mansoor was claiming that he had run 1:44 and that we had no chance, so I kept quiet and decided to let my feet do the talking on the track,” he said after the race. In the final, he stayed cool behind the pack until the last 100m, when he produced a devastating kick to clinch gold in 1:47.40. “I was so happy and elated,” he continued. “It wasn’t easy but I had morale and wasn’t afraid of the competition. We had stiff competition but we gave ourselves the chance and drive to do well.”
At the 2007 Africa Junior Championships, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Rudisha stormed to 800m gold in 1:46.41 (meet record). His first Golden League victory soon followed at the Weltklasse Meet in Zürich where he clocked 1:45.51. A week later, Rudisha roared past the field to register another victory at the Van Damme Memorial GP in Brussels (PB1:44.15).
In 2008, Rudisha qualified for the African Athletics Championships, in Addis Ababa, after clocking 1:47.2 in the third New KCC/AK meet at the Gusii stadium, a hundredth of a second (1:47.3) under the set entry time. A week later, Rudisha ran 1:47.0 in the fourth meet in Nakuru to clinch his second successive victory that placed him in good stead to make the Addis Ababa bound national team.
His coach certainly believed he has the ability to go to the very top. “It’s too early to say whether he will be the next Wilson Kipketer but he certainly had the ability. All he needs is time to slowly develop and not rush.”
At the AAC in Addis in early May, Rudisha lived up to expectations by motoring away to win the African crown in a Championship record time of 1:44.20. Now up and running, the lanky athlete’s next stop was the Doha Grand Prix where he clocked another fast 1:44.36 to win yet again.
Throughout the season, another 18 year old in the shape of World Indoor champion Abubaker Kaki was causing ripples on his own. The rising stars finally met on the track at the Golden League meet in Oslo where, despite his best efforts, Rudisha had to settle for second, setting a new personal best of 1:43.72. Six days later they faced up to each other again in Ostrava and again Rudisha came out second best (1:44.47) behind Kaki’s 1:43.80.
Shortly afterwards, disaster struck for Rudisha as he suffered shin and calf injuries while at the pre-Olympics training camp. The injuries meant he would not be fit for the 4 and 5 July Trials and despite sustained calls to include him in the Beijing squad automatically, Athletics Kenya (AK) refused, insisting that all Kenyan tickets for the Games would be earned at the selection event.
Hurt, Rudisha watched the Trials from the stands, the pain too much to bear as Wilfred Bungei, Boaz Lalang and World champion Alfred Kirwa Yego made the team. Bungei went on to win Olympic gold and his archrival Kaki was scorched at the semi-final, where he finished eighth.
“Although disappointed, I was very excited when Bungei ran to the gold. He deserved it after all the effort he has made in his career. “My moment will come one day since I’m still young,” Rudisha said of his Olympics heartbreak.
He decided to skip the 2009 Indoor season to focus on getting in shape for the Berlin World Championships. Consequently, his first outing of the season was at the 8 May Doha Super Grand Prix, where he finished fourth (1:44.78). Then in June, Rudisha was up against Kaki in Hengelo, where he set a new personal best time of 1:43.53 despite finishing fourth. “I was surprised with the time because I had gone to test whether my injury had completely healed only for me to end up with a new personal best.”
He then won the National Championships in June at a canter – which Coach O’Connell says helped get his confidence back. “After missing the Olympics, he was down for a long time mentally and it took a long while to raise him and get him to start running again. Even after the injury healed, it was still in his head. But when he ran the nationals and won three rounds, that was the turning point. He felt that he could again run freely and was back in shape.”
All season, Rudisha and World champion Alfred Kirwa Yego had avoided each other, but they came head to head at the national trials in July, with Rudisha coming out on top in 1:47.00.
“I am very happy to make the team,” said Rudisha, “that’s why I haven’t run many races this year. I told myself that it would be better just to train and work out so that I compete in the trials and make the team.”
Berlin would see him come up against his nemesis, Kaki, who had beaten him in each of their last four meetings, but despite that he remained confident. “A Championship is not like a Grand Prix. There are no pacemakers, so I don’t expect guys to run their PBs there, so a lot will depend with one’s tactics.”
“How he runs in Berlin will depend on what is in his head, said O’Connell, “how he handles the expectations. A lot depends on how he prepares himself against the opposition. He has the ability but he will have to believe in himself, because physically he is comfortable,” said O’Connell.
In Berlin, Rudisha cruised to the semis, winning his heat in 1:47.83. But in a brutal semi-final, Rudisha was boxed in heat three, finishing third (1:45.40) and thus missing out on a place in the final.
He rebounded at the Wetlkasse Golden League meet in Zürich on 28 August, clocking 1:43.52 to win his specialty, and followed it up with another win at the Van Damme Memorial in Brussels in 1:45.80.
But it was in Rieti on 6 September that he recorded his standout performance of the year. Running in perfect conditions, Rudisha floated round the track beautifully, eating up ground with consummate ease as he posted a new African record of 1:42:01, breaking the previous record that had stood for 25 years.
The lanky athlete then capped off a fine late season with a comfortable win at the World Athletics Final, in Thessaloniki, in a time of 1:44.85 on12 September.
Rudisha kicked off 2010 in some style running a new personal best in 400 metres (45.50) in Sydney on 27 February. A 1:43.15 timing in 800 metres in Melbourne five days later indicated his early form. He next clocked 1:43.00 to win the opening Diamond League Meet in Doha on 14 May and followed it up with a 1:44.03 at the Golden Spike meet in Ostrava.
4 June was a hugely important day for Rudisha as he lined against his Sudanese rival Kaki in Oslo. Having lost to him in their two previous meetings, Rudisha was determined to get his revenge and he duly did, with impressive front running, to triumph in 1:42.04.
He then came back to Nairobi for the National Championships in June where he effortlessly cruised to win in 1:44.23. His winning streak stretched on in Lausanne on 3 July with another impressive time of 1:43.25.
Then came the night in Heusden where Rudisha first wrote his name in history books. With Sammy Tangui and Boaz Lalang helping set the pace, he powered forward with 250 metres to go, finishing in 1:41.51, an African record, just a few tenths of a second shy of the World record of 1:41.11 set by Wilson Kipketer in 1997.
“Today I wanted to do something that I had never done before”, said Rudisha after his stunning race. “In the final stages it is always tough and I will need to improve on my last 50m if I want to break the World record. I do not feel disappointed at all about not breaking the World record. I enjoy to run well and to gradually become better and better. Today I wanted to run in 1:41 and that is what I achieved and I feel great about that. But I’m confident that I will still improve and that is why breaking the World record is the next step in my development. It will happen.”
At the African Athletics Championships, the question was not whether he would win, but how fast he would run. The powerful athlete did not disappoint, with a scintillating run that saw him set the quickest ever time run in altitude stopping the clock at an astonishing 1:42.84.
"I wanted to run a fast time to impress the home fans, maybe a 1:43, but even I could not believe it. Kenyans were expecting me to win and my aim was not to disappoint," the 21-year-old said afterwards.
He took a short break to recharge his batteries before taking to the blue track at the iconic Olympic stadium in Berlin on 22 August.
With Sammy Tangui as his pace maker, Rudisha went through the first 400 metres in 48.65 before taking over on the back straight. The lanky Kenyan pushed on from, there crossing the 600m mark in 1:14 and then gracefully powered home to break the long standing record.
"Last year I had a bad time in Berlin. The weather was not very good and I did not make the final. So I did not want to talk too much about the World record before today's race,” a beaming Rudisha said afterwards. "But I knew it is my day,” he continued. “I trained very hard, the weather was good. I told the pacemaker to run the first lap under 49 seconds - he did a great job. The last 200m I had to push very hard - but I saw the clock 1:41.09 at the end. Fantastic, I am very happy to be the fastest 800 metres runner in the world."
With the World record now in his grasp, Rudisha moved onto the next goal, a showdown with World Indoor champion Abubaker Kaki over the bragging rights of who is the top African at the distance. Kaki had played hide and seek with him refusing to compete at the African Championships but there would be no hiding in Brussels on 27 August where, try as he might, the Sudanese had no answer as Rudisha strolled to an easy victory in 1:43.50.
Rudisha was not finished yet, and on 29 August, he stepped onto the Rieti track to have yet another go at the World record. His training partner, Tangui, paced him at a super-fast 48.20 in the first 400 metres, followed by Jackson Kivuva; with Rudisha taking the lead with 300 metres to go. Rudisha went through 600 metres in the lead in 1:14.56 and continued to push the pace with his smooth stride, stopping the clock at an astonishing 1:41.01.
“I just knew I was in good shape. The conditions were perfect. I expected to break two records in seven days,” said Rudisha adding, “I want to return to training for next year because 2011 will be a World Championships year.”
“I have always received a very warm welcome in Rieti. I love this track and the Rieti crowd, who have always given their support. This record is for them,” continued Rudisha.
He started 2011 with his customary run in Australia, clocking 1:43.88 in March in Melbourne. But a nagging Achilles tendon injury saw the World record holder delay his entry to the Diamond League. His first DL showing was in Lausanne where he clocked a modest 1:44.15.
Having stated all season that his goal was a world title, Rudisha was in great form at the Kenyan trails, clocking 1:43.76 in Nairobi to book a ticket to Daegu.
Monaco was up next and he blew the field away to clock a season’s best time of 1:42.61. His battles with Kaki have produced great races and when the duo lined up in London in early August, expectation was high of another great race.
Rudisha a duly delivered a masterful piece of front running, comfortably keeping Kaki at bay to win in 1:42.91 - an all-comers record in Britain.
At the World Championships in South Korea, Rudisha avoided the fate of a stellar cast, including World women Pole Vault record holder, Yelena Isinbayeva as well as the fastest ever men over 100m and 110m Hurdles, Usain Bolt and Dayron Robles - among a slew of champion athletes who saw their dreams crushed at the Daegu Stadium. At least for Bolt, he recovered from his false start in 100m to win the 200m and 4X100m gold medal with Jamaica.
After going the heats and semis where he seemed not to move out of second gear, on August 30, the lanky Rudisha officially sat on top of the men 800m running after a seemingly effortless 1:43.91 triumph at the Daegu Sports Stadium to ascend to the World title.
He survived being spiked on his left heel as the competitors scrambled to get their positions at the first curve to assume the lead before unleashing a flawless display of front running, going through the opening lap in 51.33 before closing in on the title.
After steadying himself, Rudisha completed the gun-to-tape victory as Sudan’s archrival and twice World Indoor champion, Abubaker Kaki (1:44.41) and Russian grand warrior of men 800m running Yuriy Borzakovskiy (1:44.49) joined him in the podium as silver and bronze winners.
“It was tough, my shoe almost came off and I believe that would have been the end of my chances but thanks to God, it held,” the new king of the men 800m running described.
I’m so happy for the victory since I was under a lot of pressure, I have never run a race under the kind of pressure I was in today but in the end, I finally made it. Being the World recorder, everybody was expecting me to win. I was very tense at the start,” he explained.
Two further victories on his return to the meetings circuit, the first in Rieti achieved in 1:41.33 (10 September) in a spirited chase for his World record that just fell short and 1:43.96 in the Diamond League Final in Brussels (16 September) earned his second Diamond Trophy in as many years along with its $40,000 jackpot.
However, Rudisha’s winning streak of 26 finals over 800m was snapped by Ethiopian teenager, Mohammed Aman, the World Youth silver winner, at the Notturna meeting in Milan on 18 September in wet conditions with the World champ running 1:43.57 against 1:43.50 posted by the winner in a result that caused ripples in the athletics world.
In the aftermath of the, Rudisha went underground only resurfacing at the IAAF World Gala in Monaco in November, where he underlined his London Olympics vision.
“I was ready in 2008 for the Olympic Games but unfortunately I missed the Kenyan trials with a thigh injury. I watched those Olympics but it was tough to watch. But it was good in the end because a Kenyan, Wilfred Bungei, was the champion. This year I want to do my best to make the team and then to win the gold medal,” the World, Continental Cup and twice African titleholder told international media.
In 2012 Rudisha has raced in only five competitive races abroad as well as marching ahead of the queue to his first Olympics in his distance, finally burying the disheartening letdown of Beijing and he received the added bonus of being named in the men 4x400m relay team giving the chance to mint more ‘bling’ in London.
Having gauged his speed at the 18 February Sydney Classic over 400m (45.82/2nd), Rudisha returned to familiar territory, winning the Melbourne Classic (1:44.33) on 3 March to lay the platform for the start of his proper season.
His Diamond League trophy defence started in Doha, where he obliged with a 1:43.10 victory (11 May) but his next three key competitions erased any doubt he had only himself to beat in London.
First, he delivered on his pre-race pledge to obliterate the American all-comers record on his United States debut at the 9 June New York Diamond League meet, when he demolished his rivals. Rudisha stopped the timer at a staggering 1:41.74 and such was the majestic display of 800m running that compatriot and 2007 World Champion, Alfred Kirwa (1:44.49) was a street behind as Norway’s Vebjorn Rodal previous US record from winning the Atlanta 96 Olympics of 1:42.58 was left in smithereens.
Having ‘jogged’ to a 1:44.0 victory in the men 800m Kenyan OlympicTrials preliminary round on 21 July Rudisha, paid mockery to the foul weather to give 15,000 supporters more reason to believe in their Moran when he adjusted his own 1:42.84 high elevation record down to a scarcely believable 1:41.12 during the final.
“I’m very happy since Kenyans love sport and they love athletics and they give us support. Even today, they cheered as the start list was being announced and that is why I always want to deliver something for them. If I wanted to run a slow race and win nice and comfortable, I would have done that but for those who are not able to come and watch us run in Europe, I try to do my best to show them how we perform there live. It’s such an honour,” the showstopper of the meet said in the ‘acceptance speech’.
Pressed to deliver one more killer blow to his London rivals, the Rudisha ‘turbo charged’ to a 1:41.54 world lead in Paris on June 6 as he made further history as the first 800m male athlete to record six career sub 1:42s, well ahead of Kipketer who had four and Coe and Joaquim Cruz who had one.
The glittering stats, though a source of immense pride for the standard bearer who was christened ‘King David’ by local media after his Nairobi Trials blitz, will mean nothing to him if he fails to bag the Olympics crown in London.
“I’m really optimistic. This is the only major title I’m missing on my table. I’m doing all my best and the way I started training this year I did a lot of work with my coach. I hope when I get there, I shall win the Olympics and doing other great things like maybe even breaking the world record again.
“First of all I’m very happy to make the team for such a big competition. I’m very excited since is my first Olympics after I missed in 2008 due to a tendon injury that made me not run at the trials. This comes at the right time, whereby I feel I’m in the shape of my life. Running a world lead two weeks ago and running the altitude record here is fantastic.” He underscored.
For the 4x400m relay, nuclear family rivalry with his father - who once said, “I’m Rudisha, the man you are looking for is Lekuta,” when visitors called to inquire about his son - is the chief motivation. “We already have the silver medal when my father ran in 1968 and I want to better it and bring home the gold medal that is my ambition and mission this year. I will be participating in the 4 x 400m. I’m willing and free to participate we hope we will work as a team, I will do my best.”
Rudisha married his childhood sweetheart, Lizzy Naanyu, in a private ceremony at the back end of 2010 and they welcomed daughter Charlene on 31 January 2010. Wife Lizzy completed her studies at Moi University in Eldoret mid-2011 and the couple lives in the outskirts of Eldoret when the husband is not training in Iten or globetrotting.
“My family means everything to me and the birth of our daughter has enabled me to have more focus on my career and every time I compete, I dedicate my success to them,” Rudisha remarked.
O’Connell observes that Rudisha reminds him of two-time World champion Billy Konchellah. And the similarities are uncanny. First and foremost they come from the same area, Kilgoris -their homes are about 10km apart. Like Konchellah, he is Maasai, a tribe renowned for bravely and steel.
Both are over six feet tall with long smooth strides and started as 400m sprinters before switching to the two-lap race. Softly spoken off the track, just like Konchellah, he has a similarly powerful kick in the last 150m where he simply strides away from the rest of the field.
“He is very level headed and always willing to learn,” O’Connell says. “He is always seeking to improve and work.”
Rudisha says he draws encouragement from Konchellah, Japheth Kimutai and Yiampoy. “I have met Yiampoy several times and he encourages me and advises me,” Rudisha said. “I have also watched Konchellah’s races and I think he was a great athlete.”
The sixth born in a family of seven, Rudisha spends his time away from the track farming and herding cattle in the scenic plateaus of Maasai land.
400m: 45.50 (2010)
800m: 1:41.01 (2010)
800m: 2005-1:51.2; 2006: 1:46.3; 2007: 1:44.15; 2008 – 1:43.72; 2009 – 1:42.01; 2010-1:41.01; 2011-1:41.33; 2012-1:41.54
2005 2nd East-African Youth Championships (400m)
2006 1st World Junior Championships (800m)
2006 4th World Junior Championships (4x400m)
2007 1st African Junior Championships (800m)
2008 1st African Athletics Championships (800m)
2009 SF World Championships (800m)
2009 1st World Athletics Final (800m)
2010 1st African Athletics Championships (800m)
2010 1st Diamond League Race Final Standings (800m)
2011 1st World Championships (800m)
2011 1st Diamond League Race Final Standings (800m)
Prepared by James Wokabi and Mutwiri Mutuota for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008-2012