David Rudisha competes in the men’s final of the 800m at the Commonwealth Games on Thursday evening, and nothing less than gold will do for the supreme Kenyan. In fact, such is the dominance of this peerless 25-year-old, a competition final in which he does not register a world record will be something of a disappointment.
Rudisha is the undoubted star of these Games given the absence of Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis-Hill, and that Usain Bolt has chosen to only compete in the 4x100m relay. But even if this esteemed trio were in Glasgow at their respective peaks, Rudisha could fairly be judged the superior athlete.
His performance at the Olympic Games in London, although only two years ago, is already the stuff of legend. Rudisha not only clinched gold, but did so in a quite stunning world record time. No other athlete in history has been able to perform to such a standard.
A truly memorable performance
It was a run that would have asphyxiated mere mortals, but Rudisha was able to glide to glory with bucketloads of oxygen to spare. But the time of 1:40.91 was no accident - there was no element of luck about it.
Rudisha, in the biggest race of his life and on the grandest stage of all, knew precisely what it would take to clinch the gold medal and claim the world record at the same time, and was able to execute his plan to devastating effect.
Sebastian Coe, organiser of those 2012 games and himself a former 800m world record holder, was unequivocal in his assessment of Rudisha’s run, claiming it surpassed any other performance in London and, of course, there were many notable ones.
Praise from Coe
"That is quite a big call but it was the most extraordinary piece of running I have probably ever seen. It was the performance of the Games, not just of track and field but of the Games," Coe said in the aftermath of the Olympics.
"He had the balls to go in there and think I am so much better than anyone else that he could do that. In Olympic finals you are not supposed to gamble with the till but he did.
”It comes from consummate physical and mental confidence. If you look at the field, that is arguably the greatest 800m ever run."
Coe is naturally a little biased given the event, but it was indeed the greatest 800m run ever, without question. And so faultless was this piece of mastery from Rudisha, it should also be judged as the most complete sporting performance of all time, in any discipline.
Superior to other complete performances?
Usain Bolt’s 100m world record in Berlin, Diego Maradona and his solo goal against England, Kobe Bryant’s 81 point game for the LA Lakers - these are all moments of almost divine intervention, nearly unsurpassed in their respective sports.
But none quite match the breathtaking nature of Rudisha’s achievement. In the examples of Maradona and Bryant at least, they did not arrive at work on those occasions with the expectation or desire to complete these respective feats.
Instinct, match situation, energy, vision - all these and numerous other variables would have come into play. But Rudisha left nothing to chance and trusted in his superior ability and unerring intent to break new ground in the 800m.
Watch: Diego Maradona goal against England
Maradona’s goal was a perfect example of a footballer at the peak of their powers, with the Argentina great displaying exquisite poise, extreme pace, outstanding agility and an expert command of the ball on the way to reaching his objective.
It was spontaneous - a run embarked on as he saw space open up ahead of him and noticed the heat draining the opposition. There is no doubting its brilliance or significance, but it lacks the predetermined purpose or eminence of Rudisha’s benchmark.
Similarly, Bryant’s 81-pointer was a truly defining moment, and one that remains unquestioned in the annals of NBA history. It was the representation of a player operating on a level entirely different to that of opponents and teammates, with Bryant scoring from over 60 percent of his field goal attempts.
It was an example of complete performance based on numerous individual moments, and the ability to successfully repeat each action on several occasions. Yet there again too many other influencing factors - all previously mentioned - to rank this above Rudisha.
Watch: Kobe Bryant 81 point game
Determining Rudisha’s run as more accomplished than a display from an athlete in another individual sport, Usain Bolt in this instance, is less straightforward given that the 100m sprint is regarded by many as the pinnacle of sporting prowess.
There is nothing quite like a 100m sprint final - a contest almost animalistic in its appeal as the great and good of the discipline do battle in the ultimate test of speed. Bolt’s 9.58 seconds in Berlin five years ago was perfection in the sport, based purely on the fact it was the ideal execution of a 100m sprinter’s objective: run as fast as you can.
In that World Championships race, Bolt set out to break the record - just like Rudisha three years later - and did not disappoint. He outstripped all of his opponents to reach the line faster than anyone else in history, and claim the gold medal in the process.
Watch: Usain Bolt's 100m world record
A converted sprinter
It would be disparaging to suggest there a few tactics in a race pitting sheer speed against sheer speed, but the 100m is certainly far less of a psychological and physical battle than Rudisha’s event.
Rudisha himself is from a sprint background, competing in the 200m until the age of 15, and it takes a real tactical brain to convert so expertly from an anaerobic event over a short distance to become a middle distance runner of repute.
The Kenyan of course also excels at 400m, the most challenging of the sprints, and it was his ability at this event, along with the intelligence he displayed both on and off the track, that convinced coach Brother Colm O’Connell that a step up in distance was the correct move.
“Because David came off a sprint background, he was always a little bit scared of having to do long distance running,” O’Connell said.
“I actually didn’t have to do much sprint work with him. First, he was a sprinter himself – he can run 45.5sec for 400m.”
Watch: David Rudisha 800m world record at London 2012
That 2012 run in detail
It is this intelligence, along with natural talent of course, that enabled Rudisha to reach his goal in 2012 - and the time splits of each 200m showed he judged the situation and the field to perfection in order to claim glory.
The first 200m was a rapid 23.30 seconds and showed an immediate attempt to leave the rest trailing in his wake - a daring tactic and one that was in danger of failing as he slowed by over 2.5 seconds during the next phase.
It was the third quarter race that proved to be the defining one, with Rudisha aware that this was precisely the time to turn on the afterburners. He covered this 200m section in 25.02 seconds, which ensured the race was pretty much run.
This enabled Rudisha to slow down just a little over the final 200m while others strained every sinew to retrieve the leader, but they had already been outwitted, undone and outrun by the man with the superior nous.
The test now for Rudisha is to continue to live up to expectation, something hindered by missing almost a year post-Olympics with injury. A Commonwealth Games victory would be a fitting stage on which to return to prominence.
Is it possible to surpass perfection? Rudisha is capable of doing so, and the world awaits another performance for this ages from this incomparable Kenyan.
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