With the eleventh hour withdrawal of an injured David Rudisha from London 2017 which begins here in the Olympic stadium on Friday, we will be denied any repetition, or even close to it, of the highlight of London 2012, simply of one of the greatest runs I ever saw in 60 years of competing, watching and commenting on athletics. The IAAF World Championships will be all the poorer for the magisterial Kenyan’s absence.
There are doubtless those who think that a two-lap race where the lead changes a half dozen times, with a winner emerging at the line is the apogee of athletic excitement. But no one who saw Rudisha lead for every step in the 800 metres, finishing in a world record, at the Olympic Games in London 2012 will be in any doubt. What we saw is the difference between exciting and awe-inspiring.
Yes, Rudisha was the big favourite; yes, he was clearly the fastest man in the world, and was in the sort of form that suggested that only an agreement between his rivals to form a scrum at the start and bring him down was going to stop him. Had that even been the case, they simply couldn’t get close to him. The moment the gun went he was away. In fact he did his rivals a huge favour, by being the most accomplished pace-maker any of them had ever had. In the wake of Rudisha’s world record one minute, 40.91sec, there were two other national records, a world junior record, and seven of the eight men set personal bests, with all finishing inside 1min 44sec, the only race in history where that has ever happened.
Nevertheless it was still a huge gamble by Rudisha. Anyone who has ever run from the front from the gun will know the inherent danger, of over-extending and folding under either the self-imposed mental pressure or the dreaded oxygen debt when the build-up of lactic acid in the legs produces a finishing straight version of wading through treacle. Even the most experienced can come a cropper. Not Rudisha; he took off and kept going. And ran himself into a prime position in both athletics and Olympic history.
Rudisha has had his set-backs in the past. As an emergent senior talent and potential medallist, he unaccountably failed to get past the semi-finals at the World Championships in Berlin 2009. A knee injury prevented his participation at the World Championships in Moscow 2013. Fortunately for himself, us and posterity, he won both world titles in Daegu 2011 and Beijing 2015, and successfully defended his Olympic title in Rio last year.
A severe muscle strain has prompted this latest setback, which he says he hopes to rectify again at the next World Championships in Doha 2019. Speaking of the injury yesterday, Rudisha said, “We thought it was going to take a few days before recovery, but it’s taken longer than expected. When we went for an MRI scan they found that fluid was coming out of the muscle.
“I have been advised that I should take it easy. If I push it with that pain, it could damage me further – it is not the right thing to do or I would run the risk of missing the complete year. I have accepted my fate with a very heavy heart and would like to wish the team well. I will still come back stronger and even challenge for the title in the next world championships”.
And that may well be the last gasp for Rudisha. He will be 30 by then; but more importantly, that will be over a decade after his breakthrough into the world’s elite.
For a review of Rudisha’s feat five years ago, please click this link: – http://www.globerunner.org/08/the-man/