‘I can do 1:40.5’

“In Kenya, youth are getting inspired by people who have gone higher up. When you see somebody with a gold medal you feel happy,” says David Rudisha to Y.B. Sarangi.

O ff the track, he is a thorough gentleman and a soft-spoken human being. On it, he is a tough competitor and a ruthless performer.

Kenya’s David Rudisha, the first man to run the 800m in less than 1:41 (1:40.91) on his way to winning gold in the London Olympics, has established himself as the king of the half mile.

Rudisha, who had set two new World marks within a gap of a week in 2010, now holds the top three world records on the all-time list in the 800m. In fact he holds six out of the top 10 marks on the all-time list.

Rudhisha was in Delhi to promote the Airtel Delhi half-marathon on September 30. During his packed schedule, the World and Olympic champion found some time to talk to Sportstar about how he overcame stiff opposition to win the “greatest ever 800m race.” He also revealed how far he could stretch himself. Excerpts:

Question: Winning an Olympic title with a world record is phenomenal. Did you plan it or did it just happen?

Answer: I can say that I was not really planning to break the world record in the Olympics. I knew that it might be possible to do that because of my shape at that moment and my coach thought that I could make it possible because of my training (for the Games). I knew I could go under 1:42, at least 1:41. But I was surprised that the world record was possible even without a pace-setter.

You did the front-running. Were you confident of maintaining that pace?

In the camp I was very confident. I was doing 1:40. I knew I could do that with a pace-setter. But alone I felt that I could do at least 1:41. I knew if I could do that I am going to take the others out of their comfort zone and probably win comfortably. It was a historic race. Coming down the straight, everybody did push me.

Whom did you expect to pose the biggest challenge in London? Was it Mohammed Aman (Ethiopia) or Abubaker Kaki (Sudan)?

There were so many youngsters. We had not raced together before. There was (Timothy) Kitum, (Njel) Amos. We had not competed in any race. And Aman was also there. Even (Duane) Solomon (USA), and I had raced only a few times before.

But I was not thinking about the other guys. I was thinking about my own race which was very important. I am a front-runner and will not want to think about someone who is behind me.

Q: Did you expect Amos and your team-mate Kitum to finish in the top three?

Kitum was looking good. Amos was also looking good. I was expecting Aman, Kaki or Amos. They were looking strong in the semifinals. Of course, I was expecting this youngster from Kenya (Kitum) to get a good position, probably a fourth place. I told him ‘I am pushing this final and I want to do something like 1.41. Some of the athletes may try to stay with me throughout the race and some of them may not be able to handle the pressure.

So, you just come with a comfortable pace and then in the last 200 be even stronger. If they try to keep my pace, they will die there in the last 150.’ And that’s exactly what happened. Aman and Kaki followed my pace and that finished the other guys.

How do you rate Aman to whom you lost, just after the Olympics, in Zurich? And you were beaten by him in the past too. (Rudisha lost to Aman, an 18-year-old Ethiopian, in Milan in 2011)

He is a good athlete, I can say that. He has been running well consistently. But there is still a lot to do, still a long way to go. For running with more power you need to improve, need to be confident. It depends on how you train.

Can the record go below 1:40?

For me, I thought about going 1.40 and I am happy I achieved it this year. Running 1:40:91. I think it is just possible to do 1:40.5 — that is my target. But below that, I do not know whether it is possible to go. I think I can do 1:40.5. Maybe it is matter of time, I can try in the future.

Your impression of Indian athletics?

India is a good country. A lot of sports events, like the 2010 Commonwealth Games, were held here. It is unfortunate that you do not have top athletes in the country. But we hope that things will improve in the future. India has the potential. That’s what we want — to inspire the youth, to (see them) come up. They are the future. They have to decide, lay the foundation. In Kenya, youth are getting inspired by people who have gone higher up. When you see somebody with a gold medal you feel very happy.