Sebastian Coe’s world record of 1:41.73 for the 800 metres, set in Florence on June 10, 1981, stood for 16 long years before Wilson Kipketer smashed it twice within the space of 11 days in the summer of 1997.
The Kenya-born Dane first clocked 1:41.24 in Zurich and then 1:41.11 in Cologne, in a great August feat that looked beyond anyone’s capacity to replicate.
Until David Lekuta Rudisha came along, that is. That it took 13 years for the 800m world record to be broken was a surprise, but then if you look at Kipketer’s record, it is a wonder that it was bettered at all.
Rudisha, just 21 when he performed the feat, outdid Kipketer in the quick sequence in which he updated the record.
On August 22, 2010, in Berlin, Rudisha clocked 1:41.09 to displace Kipketer’s record and then a week later, at Rieti, Italy, he improved it to 1:41.01, where it stands today.
Kipketer never won the Olympics in his illustrious career, though he was the world champion in three successive editions from 1995.
Obviously, Rudisha is the hot favourite to win the Olympic title in London, especially after he clocked a sizzling 1:41.74 in New York on June 9 last, and a breathtaking 1:42.12 at the altitude of Nairobi in the Kenyan Olympic trials on June 23. With his New York effort, Rudisha now holds five of the top 10 timings in the all-time lists.
But is he unchallenged in the 800m?
Two youngsters from two different countries, having no great tradition in middle-distance running, have come into focus the past few years as serious challengers to Rudisha, and they will be there in London.
Abubaker Kaki of Sudan came into stardom by clocking a world junior record of 1:42.69 in winning the Bislett Games in Oslo in 2008. He was world junior champion in 2008, and finished second behind Rudisha in the World championships in Daegu last year.
Mohamed Aman is from Ethiopia. Just 18, he is the world indoor champion over the distance. Rudisha will remember him as the boy who ended his 26-race winning streak (2009-2011) at Milan, Italy, on September 18, 2011 — Aman 1:43.50, Rudisha 1:43.57.
Rudisha has a 3-1 record against Aman; he has a 7-5 record against Kaki including the win in the Daegu Worlds. The Sudanese last scored over the Kenyan at Hengelo, the Netherlands, in 2009.
The 800 is a tricky race. The pressure in an Olympics only adds to the uncertainties. The Moscow Olympics duel between two Britons, Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett, has been a classic example of the favourite falling, with Ovett winning.
Kipketer lost a slow race to a lesser-rated German, Nils Schumann, in the Sydney Olympics. Four years later, in Athens, he lost to Russian Yuriy Borzakovsky.
Keywords: 2012 London Olympics