Daegu, Korea - Athletics history is full of great rivalries. Even within just the middle-distance events, the pairings of Hagg vs Anderson, Coe vs Ovett, and Aouita vs Cram have been etched on the memories of athletics fans for decades.
Now the men’s 800m has David Rudisha and Abubaker Kaki, whose five-year friendly rivalry reached a climax tonight in Daegu with their tenth meeting in a final. Making their on-going battle more exciting, Rudisha’s victory in 1:43.91 brought their head-to-head tally to five a piece.
Afterwards, Rudisha admitted that the main reason why he trains so hard is to stay ahead of his great Sudanese opponent.
“Abubaker and I started racing together back when I was still running 400 metres and I got near him there,” he said. “Then we were together at the 2006 World Juniors in Beijing and we had a great race together. Also on the European circuit we have been competing together and I respect him because he is so, so tough.
“He has also been the reason why when I go back home I have to train hard because if I don’t then I know he is going to give me a challenge,” added Rudisha. “That’s very important because athletics is a competition and I respect him for being there.
Rudisha won the first of their 800m clashes, which just so happened to be the 2006 World Junior Championships. But for three years after then, Kaki got the verdict over Rudisha for three straight years.
It was only in 2010 when Rudisha was in the form of his life that he returned to winning ways over the two-time World Indoor Champion, with perhaps their most memorable clash coming at the Bislett Games last summer.
Rudisha won on that occasion in 1:42.04, breaking Seb Coe’s meeting record, as Kaki was a close second in 1:42.23. Ever since Rudisha’s 24-meet winning streak began, that remains the closest anyone has finished to him.
“All the time when we’re together we have a great race, pushing each other, which is also good for the fans because they like it when we race together. It’s good for us both to come here and win gold and silver, it was a good show and it was very exciting.”
It is a rivalry which both athletes – as well as thousands of fans – will hope to see last for many years to come. But Rudisha is all too aware of the challenge of having longevity in the sport.
“Having a long career depends on a combination of a lot of things – how you take care of yourself, determination, focus,” he said. “You can’t predict what might happen tomorrow – there are injuries, barriers, other people coming in. Every year there are challenges. But it is our dream and our aim to see that we maintain our form for a long time.”
For Rudisha, that form just so happens to be world-beating form, and he plans to use his last few races of the year in which to attack his world record of 1:41.01.
“After breaking the world record last year I don’t want it to stop there,” he said. “Maybe after here we’ll see if I can try to push my time to get under 1:41.
“Last year I broke the two world records and I didn’t have any titles with me, but today I’m very happy,” added Rudisha, who adds the World title to the African title he won last year. “I know that this is going to boost my profile, but I’m still aiming for the Olympics next year and when I go back that is my focus to make sure I win the three titles in a row to make my career complete.”
No prizes for guessing which athlete will most likely be there in London next year, pushing Rudisha all the way.
- Competition history between Rudisha and Kaki -
2006 World Junior Championships, Beijing – 1 Rudisha 1:47.40, 6 Kaki 1:48.46
2007 Super Grand Prix, Doha – 4 Kaki 1:45.42, 6 Rudisha 1:45.63
2008 Bislett Games, Oslo – 1 Kaki 1:45.69, 2 Rudisha 1:43.72
2008 Golden Spike, Ostrava – 1 Kaki 1:43.80, 2 Rudisha 1:44.47
2009 Super Grand Prix, Doha – 1 Kaki 1:43.09, 4 Rudisha 1:44.78
2009 FBK Games, Hengelo – 1 Kaki 1:43.10, 3 Rudisha 1:43.53
2010 Bislett Games, Oslo – 1 Rudisha 1:42.04, 2 Kaki 1:42.23
2010 Van Damme Memorial, Brussels – 1 Rudisha 1:43.50, 2 Kaki 1:43.84
2011 Diamond League, London – 1 Rudisha 1:42.91, 2 Kaki 1:43.13
2011 World Championships, Daegu – 1 Rudisha 1:43.91, 2 Kaki 1:44.41
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF