For 25 years, Kenya’s best talent in the 800 metres had laboured to break Sammy Kosgei’s 1984 Africa record of one minute, 42.28 seconds without success.
Yet it was a walk in the park for Africa champion David Rudisha when he set a new time of 1:42.01 at the IAAF Grand Prix meeting in Rieti, Italy, on Sunday.
Now his coach, Catholic lay brother Colm O’Connell, is sniffing a new world record in one year from the Kenyan prodigy and son of 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games 4x400m silver medallist Daniel Rudisha.
The world record, set by Kenya-born Dane Wilson Kipketer in Cologne on August 24, 1997, stands at an imposing 1:41.11.
“Many top athletes tried to break this record. People like Billy Konchellah, Paul Ereng and Japheth Kimutai have made their mark but their efforts to claim this record was never successful,” said Brother Colm.
For a coach who has seen the everyday development of the athlete since his days as a decathlete, a 400m runner and finally a two-lap racer, Brother Colm is certain Rudisha has the speed and willpower to blow up the Kipketer ceiling.
Returning record home
Two-time former world 800m champion Billy Konchellah, who made several attempts to break the record without luck, said Rudisha epitomises the hope and belief that Kenyan runners are capable of: returning the world record home.
“At the moment, only two or three athletes can break the world record. That is Rudisha and my son Gregory Konchellah [Yusuf Saad Kamel of Bahrain]. I believe if they are focussed, the will do it,” he said.
Olympic 800m champion Wilfred Bungei branded Rudisha as an athlete in his own class.
“He certainly is cut a above us all,” he said. “If he remains focussed and disciplined, certainly Kipketer will have to be worried about his record. For the first time it looks, for real, that a heir to the throne has been identified.”
Bungei pointed out that while many will point at Rudisha’s performance at the World Championships in Berlin, he cautioned them, saying he himself never achieved a major title in such competition and had to wait until Beijing to clinch his gold.
“Where was Bungei in the rankings in the countdown to Beijing Olympics? What about [Alfred] Kirwa in the build-up to Osaka in 2007, or South African Mbulaeni Mulaudzi before Berlin? Nobody gave us a chance, yet we won,” added Bungei. “The international championship is a different game and Rudisha will emerge to answer his critics.”
Show more hunger
But the kenyan team captain to the Beijing Games advised Rudisha to show more hunger in his running if he is to break Kipketer’s record.
Born on December 17, 1988 in Kilgoris, Rudisha has a physique and composure that many middle distance race runners envy him for. Brother Colm said the rise of Rudisha has been gradual although he has been limited by injuries.
“He was in good form when going to Berlin. But he lacked the experience, making him crack under pressure. This is his third year since he started running in 800m race,” said Brother Colm. “He needs to gain experience, and next year provides the best chance for him to break the record as there will be no serious competitions.”
Kipketer, now an IAAF goodwill ambassador and running for Denmark, first equalled the world record and went on to break it in Cologne, Germany, at the age of 25 years. Brother Colm said Rudisha has an edge as he is five years younger.
“Of course the disappointment of Berlin has helped propel him to do more. It makes me happy to see him this way. He has proved that he is still a quality athlete,” said the coach. “Rudisha won in Zurich and now Reiti. He is developing by the day.”
Brother Colm is now hoping he will be able to keep the African champion and record holder away from injury by making him do enough background conditioning.