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New York, USAup to the adidas Grand Prix in New York, the sixth stop in the Samsung Diamond League, World champion and World record holder David Rudisha's assertion that he was ready to run 1:42 in the 800m drew a lot of attention. Not since the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles had an 800m World record holder run in the United States. The all-comers record dated back to the 1996 Olympics, where Vebjorn Rodal ran 1:42.58.
"I started with 1:44 in Australia," explained Rudisha before the meet. "Then I ran 1:43 in Doha. I think 1:42 would be a good place to be at this point in the season."
This kind of anticipation often leads to disappointments, as fast times are seldom as easy to reach as they are to talk about. Rudisha, however, may have surprised even himself a little Saturday in New York City, as he overshot his mark somewhat and ran 1:41.74. Rudisha followed pacemaker Matt Scherer through the 400m in 49.06, then "pushed a little bit" on the second lap to pick up his fifth career sub-1:42, the all-comers record, and of course the meet record as well.
The former meet record of 1:44.38 was run in 2010 by Mbulaeni Mulaudzi, and was very nearly surpassed by Alfred Kirwa Yego this year as he came second behind Rudisha at 1:44.49.
'If I get a few more weeks of good training I will be ready for anything in London’
To put this in perspective, it is the ninth-fastest 800m ever run. Of the faster eight, four were run by Rudisha himself, three by former World Record holder Wilson Kipketer, and the last by Sebastien Coe. Only Rudisha has run sub-1:42 in non-World record races. Rudisha, clearly, is becoming a class to himself in this event, a feat not often achieved in the middle distances.
Rudisha drew a roar from the crowd, of course, but he also drew a laugh from the assembled media when he sat down at the press conference, picked up the microphone, and said flatly, "It was a good race," as though that was all that could be said after chipping nearly three seconds off a meet record and leaving all his competitors well over two seconds in arrears.
Clearly there was more to say, however, and even Rudisha's bearing suggested it; in pre-meet press conferences, he spoke softly, holding the microphone in his lap as though he would rather not broadcast his words. Now, after the race, he spoke clearly and directly in to the microphone. Pressed about his evaluation of his run, Rudisha admitted, "1:42 was my aim, so it was fantastic to run 1:41."
"The pacemaker did a good job, he was strong. 1:41 is a good effort this early in the season. If I get a few more weeks of good training I will be ready for anything in London."
This was only the second sub-1:42 800m to be run in June, and the earliest in the year by a day; Coe's 1:41.73, a World record at the time, came on June 10th of 1981.
"My training before this race was normal, I did not take any extra rest before this race. I felt great. I feel good about my training because I felt so strong on the second lap. In the coming few months I think I can do even better."
Earlier, Rudisha had dismissed the idea of improving on his own World Record of 1:41.01 this season, explaining that the training for championship racing and the training for pure speed were too different, and that in 2012 he was focused entirely on winning the Olympic gold medal. Another 1:41 early in the season, however, reopened discussion of just how fast he might be able to run. Even former World champion Bernard Lagat, watching Rudisha's race, suggested that Rudisha might have been capable of running a new World record in New York.
Rudisha disagreed, but admitted that eventually, sub-1:40 might be possible. "That is what I am thinking about," he said, "but it's going to be very tough, and it will take a lot to get there. But we are working hard, and we think we can get under 1:41."
"It's all about determination and good training. It's how you prepare and organise your training. You need to be very strong and very smart to get it right. Training is all about hard work. Sometimes you do very well and you feel fantastic, but sometimes you are disappointed in your races or your performance. It's a progress like climbing a ladder, though. You have to keep moving up a step at a time."
Rudisha is unlikely to be swayed from his main goal, a gold medal in London. A younger Rudisha was sorely disappointed in 2008 when an unfortunate injury kept him out of the Kenyan Trials. "Just to be in the final would have been an achievement," he says now. "It was tough, but I was still young, and my coach reminded me that I had many years to come. Besides, a Kenyan [Wilfred Bungei] won, so that was good." (Yego, second behind Rudisha in New York, took bronze in that Beijing race.) Today, Rudisha feels his chance is now. "I am in much better shape now than in 2008."
"The Olympic Final might be a tactical race. There will be no pacemakers. It might be fast or slow. I should be ready for whatever."
Inspiration and dedication were a theme of Rudisha's throughout the weekend, as he referred in his Friday press conference to the many Kenyan champions who came through his school, St. Patrick's, and ran for his coach, Brother Colm. He cited Isaac Songok, Japheth Kimutai, and his training partner Augustine Choge (who finished 8th in the 1500m in New York). After the race, he expanded on this: "We get inspired by the people around us," he said. "You want to be like them. There are lots of Kenyans who are inspired that way."
In the end, perhaps Rudisha was inspired a little by Frank Sinatra - if he can make it in New York, maybe he can make it anywhere, if "make it" means run 1:41.
"I'm excited to be in New York, in America, for the first time, and I wanted to run something special here. I didn't tell anybody that. You want to do something special when you're in a place for the first time. I've never been in a big city like this before. Tomorrow I will be around until the evening, so I may be able to go around and see some things I missed."