Since emerging as one of the finest 800m runners in the world nearly a decade ago, major titles eluded Wilfred Bungei. But tonight, propelled by the vast experience he’s compiled, the Kenyan flag-bearer captured the Olympic 800m title.
He did it without any second guessing, without panicking. Finding himself in the lead at the break, he simply went with what the race handed him. With his sterling determined run, he was never headed as he crossed the line in 1:44.65.
“That is why I broke down a little when I crossed the line,” said Bungei, who became the third Kenyan to win the Olympic title after Paul Ereng (1988) and William Tanui (1992). “I came here not knowing exactly what I was going to do. It’s been so elusive for me to get a medal. In spite of the fact that I’ve been one of the best for a long time, especially when you compare 2001 until now. It’s been tough. And to at the end of the day, to win, was just amazing.”
Indeed, Bungei has been among the event’s elite since taking World championships silver in 2001, and was the fastest in the world in 2003, 2004 and 2005. The Olympic title eluded him in 2004 in Athens where he finished fifth, and again at the 2005 and 2007 World championships where he finished fourth and fifth respectively.
Bungei said he had no pre-race plan to follow. Making plans that don’t pan out, he said, leads to panic, and ultimately defeat. “I found myself in front, and I said, ‘Ok, lets go.’ ”
At the break, he and teammate Alfred Kirwa Yego, the World champion, ran virtually stride-for-stride, with Yego on the outside. Behind them, Algerians Nabil Madi and Nadjim Manseur followed. When Bungei reached the bell in 53.35, Sudan’s Ismail Ahmed Ismail and Cuban Yeimer Lopez joined the front of the pack; the Sudanese moved into second with 200m to go, seemingly poised to attack for the lead down the homestretch.
But the assault never came. Bungei fiercely held his ground to hold off Ismail, who managed to narrow the gap slightly over final few strides to stop the clock in 1:44.70. Yego produced a solid closing effort of his own, moving from fifth the third over the final 50 metres to take the bronze in 1:44.82.
Canadian Gary Reed, who barely qualified from each of the first two rounds, looked strongest of all during the homestretch dash, but left himself too much ground to cover, and finished fifth in 1:44.94.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF