The world men 800m record holder and twice African champion has evolved to be the symbol of sporting excellence in a nation that boasts of more than its fair share of distance running icons.
On Friday, Rudisha’s venerated status among his people was in full display when Kenya’s Head of State, President Mwai Kibaki, handed the national flag to the squad headed for Daegu World Championships on Friday.
Soon after the president wrapped up the official presentation and photo obligations, the gathered sports men and women were treated to State hospitality at the lush and serene compound of State House, Nairobi.
Rudisha hardly had settled to delve into his plate of sandwich, chicken legs, barbecued beef and a bottle of Coca-Cola before he was singled out from the collection of world beaters besides him and inundated with requests to pose for photographs by fellow athletes, security personnel and officials.
“I wanted this to be over soon so that I can rush to visit my daughter Charlene but now, that is looking difficult,” he remarked as ever the humble man he is, stepped aside to grant interviews to waiting media.
But from their professional, digital and mobile phone cameras, his admirers continued clicked away with the tall, dark and powerful figure of the world record holder posing with his radiant smile looking at ease with all the attention.
Amid the fanfare at the well manicured compound of the country’s Seat of Power, word reached the athlete that none other than President Kibaki himself wanted audience with him.
He was soon whisked away to join in the main dais where away from the glare of the cameras that were barred from capturing the moment, Rudisha had his privacy with the Head of State, who engaged him in animated conversation before inviting him to sit a few feet away and sample the delicacies on offer at the high table.
That blissful moment with the country’s leader underlines the huge weight of expectation on the 24-year-old’s shoulder as he prepares to compete at the World Championships where he is seeking his maiden 800m world title after falling short two years ago.
“People are expecting a lot from me but I have trained well, I’m prepared and ready to give my best. The important thing is good training, I’m going there to compete against the best and that requires giving the best,” he told Capital Sport.
“Last time I missed the final because of a few things here and there and this time, I have promised myself not to make any mistake.”
Besides Rudisha in the men 800m line-up for Daegu is the reigning silver medallist, Alfred Kirwa Yego who won the title in 2007 and Jackson Kivuva, a finalist in Berlin.
“We have a good team, we ran together in Berlin and now, we are more experienced and this will help us,” the man who blasted to two 800m records inside a week last year, first breaking Wilson Kipketer’s long standing 1:41.11 with 1:41.09 in Berlin before shattering his own best with 1:41.01 in Rieti stated.
Yego, who lost his mother earlier this week, knows all about the huge weight of expectations ahead of a major event and now, coping with personal tragedy.
“There should be no pressure since what you go there to do is run as you always do. One just has to learn to be tough and for me, I’m ready to represent my country.”
But there is no mistaking everyone is looking at the man nicknamed the ‘Pride of Africa’ following his flawless World Junior Championships victory in Beijing 2006 to deliver a scintillating performance in Daegu.
Rudisha has been placed on the same pedestal as Jamaica sprint luminary, Usain Bolt, Croatian High jumper, Blanka Vlasic, the returning Russian world women Pole vault record holder, Yelena Isinbayeva and American sprinter, Allyson Felix as the stars to watch for at Daegu.
On August 3, the world will find out whether the Ol Tanki Village, Transmara born running phenomenon will complete his favourite role with the yellow coloured medal at the Daegu Sports Complex.