NAIROBI, Kenya, February 23- World record holder-check! World champion-check! Africa titleholder-check! IAAF Continental Cup gold medallist-check! Twice Samsung Diamond League winner-check!
In two resounding seasons, David Lekuta Rudisha, the stocky built 800m running phenomenon has marked down the imposing achievements listed above in his CV and this year, he is dead set to add the biggest prize of them all- Olympics gold.
“The previous year (2010) the training was really good and that really helped me to move to 2011. It was not that bad because I achieved my goals, ran a good race to win the World Championships that was my main target for last year and I also ran a fantastic race, 1:41.31.
“I was not that strong at the end since I missed part of my training at the beginning of the year but I’m satisfied,” Rudisha said in his training base in Iten when a group of international journalists called on him under the IAAF Day in Life (DIL) programme.
The media crew spent two days interacting with the two-lap standard bearer as he went for slight training at the Chepkoilel Campus dirt track and a day later, followed him through a light run in the dusty winding roads around Iten, the self styled University of Champions.
A dinner and interview opportunities at the scenic Kerio Valley Hotel and St Patrick’s High School, Iten camp where he crafts his seasons away from the trappings of luxury that his success has afforded him left the journalists in awe.
Here was a man who commands international acclaim and arguably Kenya’s most recognisable latter day sports icon at his humble settings that in following with the tradition set by accomplished runners in his nation chooses to reside for maximum focus.
His manager, James Templeton and coach, Patrician brother, Colm O’Connell were there to guide their biggest star through the motions as he narrated his aspirations for a year where he hopes to end as Kenya’s fourth Olympics champion following Paul Ereng (1988), William Tanui (1992) and titleholder, Wilfred Bungei who has all but hang his spikes.
“Winning the world championships made me really happy because I missed in Berlin after bad weather and people started saying Rudisha is not a championship athlete, he is a fast athlete but he can’t manage championship pressure.
“I knew myself I can do both, championships and fast races in the league circuit. That is what I wanted to prove to them and I thank God that everything went like I planned in Daegu. I told my coach after winning, I felt something heavy was taken off my shoulder, that was a very great moment for me to stop many questions about Berlin,” the world champion said of his historic triumph in Daegu achieved in 1:43.91.
Having broken all barriers in 2010 when he broke the long standing 1:41.11 world record set by hero and Kenyan born Dane Wilson Kipketer twice inside a week, 1:41.09 (Berlin) and 1:41.01 in Rieti, to be named IAAF World Male Athlete of the Year, all eyes were on the Ol Tanki village born, Transmara runner in the subsequent Worlds campaign.
After his customary start to the season in Australia, 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 (June 30).
Rudisha was dominant at the Trials for Berlin where he won in 1:43.76 (July 16) before shaping his Diamond League charge with further victories in Monaco (1:42.61/July 22) and London (1:42.91/August 5) that preceded his golden run in Daegu.
Instantly, he became a celebrity in Daegu, his performance ranking as one of those that received roaring approval from the crowd at the majestic stadium as he found himself sat with his idols, Lord Sebastian Coe and Cuban legend Alberto Juantorena at a luncheon organised by AIPS.
That done, Rudisha returned to Rieti for another world record attempt but clearly, some of the energy that had marked his 2010 campaign was missing although he delivered the fourth fastest 800m race when the clock stopped at 1:41.31.
“I was really impressed; in fact, I did not know I could go that fast because the way I felt my shape last year is not the same way I felt the other year. When I returned from Australia, I missed a lot of training because of the injury that saw me miss almost two and a half months.
“Coming from that injury and running 1:41 was fantastic.”
Rudisha’s season ended in anti climax when he was handed his first defeat in two years by Ethiopia’s teenager, Mohammed Aman (1:43.57) in Milan on September 18 and the champion’s unbeaten streak of 26 races was broken again, in foul weather.
“Of course, it brought me down to earth. I started the season and achieved my goals and after that, sometimes, you might relax and Aman was peaking towards the end of the season but for me, I was going down a little bit.
“I was focused and I was going there to run a fast race since I was in good shape but it just comes something small and it was just a bad day, it can happen to any athlete. When we go to the track, we are good, we are strong and everyone expects us to win,” he summed the shock defeat that sent ripples worldwide.
Any lessons learnt? “Those disappointments are good to keep the mind sharp to know that you have to go back to work hard and do better because there are some other guys pushing you from behind there. I have to work harder and do better.”
On his much touted Olympics winning performance later this year in London, Rudisha who once again kick-started his season in the Land Down Under with a 45.82 result for second over 400m at the Sydney Track Classic (February 18) disclosed that he was looking forward to deliver the goods.
“We are doing good preparations with my coach Brother Colm and the progress is good. We are working hard to ensure we make this great achievement, we are working hard and we hope things will go well but we are on the right track.
“We will try to do something different this year. In 2010 we did training to break the world record as well as running fast races and in 2011, we planned for a tactical race to win the World Championships. This year, we will try to combine both, fast races and championships running.”
Like every other proven soldier, Rudisha does posses a chink in his armour with bad weather seemingly the only opponent he is yet to conquer, with his semi final exit at the Berlin Worlds and his defeat in Milan the most glaring examples.
With wet conditions likely at the London Olympics, Rudisha admits he has to be prepared to beat foul conditions if he is to be sure of fulfilling his ambitions.
“In some of the races I have been beaten so far, it is where we have bad weather like raining and wet conditions. Weather is not a big problem since it affects everybody but my main problem if it affects my warm-up because I do not feel quite reactive at the end.
“In Milan, they delayed our race due to rain and I only did five minutes of warm-up and we were in this small room and I did not get my routine for warm-up. For the Olympics, we will prepare ourselves to see that we carry warm clothing to ensure that even if it rains, I will do my good warm-up.”
Any chance of another world record attempt to crown his season if his London dream is realised?
“You never know, the training programme is good, when I start the season, that is when I know what shape I’m in and I will know whether to go for the record after the Olympics,” he chuckles.
With that, the father of one, daughter Charlene, rose to mingle with other journalists and so engaging were his interviews that he reported fractionally late for his evening stretch exercises.
To keep him abreast with what is going on in his beloved sport as well as other world events; the tech savvy Rudisha has his iPad and a Samsung Galaxy Tab presented to him in Daegu when he struck gold to scroll through in his modest camp in Iten as well as an iPod to listen to his favourite tunes when doing his light work-outs.