NAIROBI, Kenya, June 21- If world record holder David Rudisha needed prompting on the weight of expectation Kenyans have dumped on his shoulders for the forthcoming Olympics, he was given another forceful reminder on Thursday.
The star of the show had Nyayo National Stadium buzzing when he powerful legs lined-up for the start before he coasted to a 1:44.0 victory in the men 800m London Trials preliminary rounds as he paid mockery to the foul weather to give his supporters reason to believe.
After the race, members of the public and fellow athletes milled to catch a glimpse or have a word with the signature athlete as mobile phone and pocket digital cameras competed with professional press photographers to snap his images.
“I know there is a lot of pressure being the current world record holder in 800m and world champion. This year is a big year, the Olympics year and everybody who loves sport, loves the Olympics and I know there are a lot of expectations.
“It is a good thing because when you channel that pressure into a positive attitude, it will make me perform well,” he said in clear cognisance of how he has evolved to be one of, if not biggest hope for glory when London Olympics kick off on July 27.
“Today’s race was just for qualifying for Saturday’s final, it was nothing much and the important thing was to test the body to feel whether we are in a good position,” he nonchalantly declared as if running 1:44 in punishing elevation during the heats of any event including the Olympics Trials, was a stroll in the park.
His coach, Brother Colm O’Connell who linked up with the precocious talent from Trans Mara who has turned out to be the king of 800m running in 2004, paid credence to the huge anticipation building around the 23-year-old Maasai Moran.
“It was not about time, it was about qualification and getting a nice run. It was a bit cool and that helps him in terms of temperature. After coming off a fantastic 800m in New York, expectations are high and I think he lowered the tempo by running a relaxed and controlled heat,” the famed Irish Patrician Catholic order clergyman observed.
Having missed Beijing Olympics when the then freshly minted African champion injured himself on the eve of the Trial, the coach was relieved that his athlete had dodged the first bullet with the finals on Saturday remaining the last step in the London qualification ladder.
“The biggest pitfalls for elite athletes when it comes to major championships are the semi finals. Competing in one today helps him mentally since all other races are paced and when you come to a race without pace making, it helps him handle a situation he is all out in front alone.
“It helps one switch to championship mode and I think David handled it well, it was also important for him as the first race he has competed in Nairobi this season,” Bro O’Connell explained.
Of concern to his rivals if they did not heed warning of his London, intent when he breezed to the US soil record of 1:41.74 at the Adidas New York Diamond League Grand Prix on June 9, the world champion believes he is in the shape that saw him break the world record twice in 2010, an ominous prospect to all who harbour winning ambitions at the Olympics.
“I can say I’m in that sort of shape. This year, I did quite good training and I said earlier on, 2011 was different type of training from 2010 but this year, I combined both to see whether I can do fast races as well as handle Olympics that will be a tactical race.
“I’m happy because I can see all of them coming together nicely.”
In his 2010 Annus mirabillis, Rudisha broke Wilson Kipketer’s previous world record of 1:41.11 that had stood for almost 14 years by running 1:41.09 in Berlin and a week later, obliterating his own standard by blasting to 1:41.01 in Rieti on August 29.
Rudisha formally proclaimed his desire to compete in the 4X400m relay race in London, further proof of the confidence he has more to spare outside his speciality as he also spoke of a potentially dream clash against fellow world record holder and Jamaican sprint sensation, Usain Bolt at the event.
“I’m happy that my father was a 4X400m runner in 1968 and won Kenya a silver medal. I usually do 400m and I’m happy to be in the Kenyan team for the Olympics but before that, I hope we qualify and make the final through teamwork.
“We here from the news Usain Bolt might want to participate in the 4X400m which is a good challenge. It is very rare to find two world record holders from different events competing in the same competition. It is good for us and good for the fans,” the two-time African champion and Continental Cup gold medallist told.
His father, retired District Education Officer, Daniel Rudisha was among the Kenyan quartet that won the second medal at Mexico 68 Games.
Alfred Kirwa, the Olympics bronze winner and 2007 World titleholder, who was second to Rudisha in New York where he returned his season’s best of 1:44.49 is content with being in sight of, not challenging the record holder at the Olympics.
“I’m always happy being on the track with him because he is that man who can go in front and run faster. I believe he is the man to be watched in London since he is in good form right now.
“It is a privilege for Kenya as we are going to London, we follow him and it will happen,” the Beijing bronze winner attested.
Commonwealth champion, Boaz Lalang who shares a manager with Rudisha was more forthright on the prospects of the world record holder fulfilling his top billing in London.
“Rudisha is in great shape, more than in 2010 and this year, he is going to bring the medal, I mean gold to Kenya and I would not be surprised if he broke the world record again,” the Beijing finalist who saw his hopes of a repeat appearance ended by stomach pain during the Thursday preliminaries staunchly stated.
“I always seek to improve any time I go out there. I did 1:43.01 in Doha and when I went out in New York, I was expecting to run 1:42 but running 1:41 was great.
“London Olympics is very important thing for me and making the team is my next goal, not necessarily with a fast time so that I can save energy for the coming races,” the world record holder concluded as he left off to attend to his admirers, members of the press included as some downed their tools of trade to turn to autograph hunters.
Such is his elevated status in a nation that takes time to embrace its sporting heroes.