ZURICH, Switzerland, August 30 – The 800m remains arguably the hardest track event, demanding that athletes push the boundaries of aerobic endurance and anaerobic sprint speed to the limit as they race two laps at a rate of 12.7sec for every 100m covered.
And the Irish coach of Kenya’s David Rudisha, who claimed Olympic gold in London earlier this month by bettering his own world record to 1:40.91, believes the event is moving into the same field as that of the 100, 200 and 400m.
“He’s pushing it into the realms of sprinting,” Brother Colm O’Connell said of Rudisha’s startling form, adding that he expected the 23-year-old to improve even more.
“At the same time, the 800m is a very calculated race, it’s not a sprint, it’s not an endurance race, you have to find that balance.
“For David, we still haven’t got the perfect balance. There’s a bit of experimentation to be done to get the perfect race.”
Rudisha’s sole post-Olympic race will be in Thursday’s Diamond League meet here, and the Kenyan is targeting another world record, aided by his long-time training partner and pacemaker Sammy Tangui.
And O’Connell’s appearance in the Swiss city augurs well for Rudisha.
“It was a big surprise for me to see him here,” Rudisha said. “I’m happy because we normally don’t travel much with him. It’s a good thing he’s here.
“The only other times were in Lausanne in 2007, and Brussels and Rieti in 2010, when I did fast times.”
O’Connell cuts an unlikely figure as one of the world’s leading middle and distance running coaches.
The Irish lay priest’s holistic style has produced more than 25 world and Olympic champions for Kenya, nearly half of the country’s legendary running success.
The 63-year-old Cork-born former school teacher did not have any formal athletics training when he arrived in Kenya some 40 years ago and on Wednesday described his approach to coaching as one of “facilitating”.
“David does a lot of training on his own, but from time to time I bring in other runners who are not always 800m, different athletes to help him through different parts of his training, be it speed or endurance,” he said.
“When a young athlete comes to me, I turn things around and work from within. What are his dreams? I try to make him own everything in training.
“David’s a power runner who likes to run from the front. It wasn’t until 2009-10 that he became a front runner and imposed himself, gun to tape.”
But O’Connell played down expectations that Rudisha could break the mythical 1min 40sec barrier.
“We agreed before London that anything less than a gold would have been a failure,” the Irishman said.
“Without a pace setter, running from lane four in an Olympic final with all the pressures on him certainly creates an opening for an improvement.
“Is it the 100 seconds?! Probably not this year!
“We’ve certainly some things to work on to get down to 1:40, which is now the target for him.
“However, to look at 1:40, we have to do a bit of structural change to our approach to his coaching, his training. Perhaps next year.”
Rudisha agreed with his coach, saying his first target would be 1:40.50 and leaving no one in any doubt about what he had aimed to achieve in London.
“In London, we prepared a lot. It’s an Olympic year and it’s very important for us. I already had the world title and the only thing missing was the Olympic medal,” he said.
“I’ve had no injury since the start of the season. I had a lot of confidence going to London because of the way I was preparing myself — I had no doubts.
“My first goal was to dip under the Olympic record of 1:42.58 set in 1996 and live the rest.”