David Rudisha exclusive: "I want to live up to my name"

The 800m Olympic champion speaks to Olympic Channel about a painful year that included a car crash, and his Tokyo 2020 comeback.

By Evelyn Watta

David Rudisha's name means to return in Swahili. And that is exactly what the Kenyan is planning to do: Return in style and win a third Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

The world 800m record holder has not competed for 18 months due to a misdiagnosed injury, a major car crash, and personal issues including his father's death and the breakdown of his marriage.

But the 30-year-old hopes to resume training soon, as he wants to become the first man to win three consecutive Olympic titles.

Speaking to the Olympic Channel at the IAAF World Athletics Championships, Rudisha said, “I will be back! I want to live up to my name.”

David Rudisha speaking to the Olympic Channel at the Khalifa stadium in Doha.

Exclusive Q&A with 800m world record holder David Rudisha

How is your health at the moment?

David Rudisha: I stopped training completely, that was the advice I was given. I have been out for over a year and a half, since 2018. I had a sitting bone problem.

I first felt it in 2016. I remember while training for the Rio Olympics, I was pointing to the physios that I have some discomfort. I wanted them to do something.

In 2017, I still had the problem.

"I was still training, competing, but I was in pain. I did some scans and tests, but we couldn't detect the problem. We thought it was coming from the back of sciatic nerve, but it turned out to be a misdiagnosis" - David Rudisha to Olympic Channel.

In 2018 it got worse. I had to stop. I went to the Netherlands with Michele Boeting [manager].

They did a thorough check, all the way to the back, and the doctor there found the problem.

He advised me to stop completely until I healed, otherwise if I continued training or competing, I’d worsen the problem.

But now I feel like the injury is almost gone. I feel better, ready to come back. I will start getting into training slowly.

How painful was it?

DR: It was painful. I felt like on my left leg, I was losing power because of the pain. And I was not fully stretching in training, and I felt like my stride was a little bit shorter.

In August you had a bad car accident. Were you injured?

DR: It was a terrible car accident. My car was completely written off.

I was driving from Nairobi to my home, in Kilgoris. I had driven for like five hours, and I had 30 kilometres to get home. Then as I approached a sharp corner, there was a public service bus on my lane and we crashed.

"I'm lucky to be alive, I was not hurt and no passenger in the bus was injured. I believe that was another chance for me" - Rudisha on his life-threatening car crash

It has been a difficult period for you…

DR: In 2017, I was looking forward to defending my world title in London. And just before those championships, while training in Kenya, I had a muscle pull. I had to stop.

It was very tough as I had prepared for the whole season. I was ready, almost there. But I still had a lot of pain in my left leg.

"Around that time, I also had issues with family. Sometimes when it comes to trust it's very difficult. I separated with my wife, it was not easy."

Then in early 2018, I lost my father, who was a very close friend. It's been very tough handling all these pressures. I want to put everything behind me and start from here, now that the injury is gone and all that is in the past, so that I can improve myself on the track.

What effect did your father have on your life, and your career?

DR: My father [Daniel Rudisha] was like a mentor. He’s always been very close to me. I come from Transmara, where we don’t have people training to be athletes. We don't have even stadiums. We don't have tracks. It's very hard to get motivation.

But growing up knowing my father was an athlete changed my life. I always wanted to become like him. I was so attached to him. I never knew why I used to go home more frequently when he was alive. I couldn’t spend more than one-and-a-half-months away, before I was home again. But since he passed away, it can take me up to three, four months before visiting home. The gap is huge.

How did you get through this tough period?

DR: I've always been in control. I'm still in one piece. Now, I want to get back to track, because I have never retired officially, I just had the problems. I believe I still have good years ahead of me.

How difficult is it for you to sit in the stands and watch the men's 800 meters? Do you feel like you still want to be there on the track?

DR: To watch from outside it's quite different because I feel that emotion, adrenaline.

Sometimes I find myself moving while I am watching. When I am supporting, maybe my compatriots, and when I see them making some mistakes, I feel like reaching out to them, but I can’t.

"I still feel like that is where I belong. I feel like I'm not done yet. It's tough for me to watch from outside. I'm used to being on the track more than outside here."

Did you ever think about walking away? You were in pain for so long.

DR: The last time I thought my career was over was in 2013. It was very painful. I couldn’t even do 15 minutes of jogging. That’s the time I felt I was done with sport. It was all about staying positive and seeing things from a different perspective. I was supported by family and friends, my coach Brother Colm [O’Connell].

It was difficult but I believed in myself. When I came back to training after rehabilitation, I was not as sharp as I used to be. I was losing some of the races. In 2015 a lot of people didn’t even think I could do something, win major races, but I believed in myself.

If I could handle winning and breaking the world record in an Olympic final, these others I can handle.

David Rudisha, double Olympic champion.

Do you have an idea when you will be back?

DR: I am going to start my training in the next few weeks.

"I’m not fit, I've added a few kilos. I have gained about 12 kilos. I am going to start working on my weight. My challenge for now is to lose the weight fast, and start building up my training slowly."

I'm very positive about this because Tokyo 2020 is something I have been talking about over and over again, even before my injury.

I want to do my best to be there and to take part, because not many of the 800m athletes have participated in their third Olympics.

You have changed management. Are you still going to work with Brother Colm [O’Connell] as coach?

DR: I have to look at things differently.

I changed my management last year. Michel and I will sit down and strategise on the best approach. Whether we will train in Kenya, or train outside the country. I am also looking for a new training partner. Sammy Tangui, who is also my very close friend and was my pacemaker, I think he’s retired. Two years ago, he had a terrible injury, a fracture. He was playing football. He crashed his ankle; I don’t think he is going to make it back again.

Will Tokyo be your final stop?

DR: I never announced my retirement. I know people are also waiting eagerly to see my return. Whenever I promise my fans that I’ll be back, I must work for this and fulfil my promise. That’s part of the reason why I want to give it another go.

I was thinking about retiring after Tokyo. But since I've been out for quite some time, that's also changed my mind. I could stop in Tokyo or after that. But that will mainly be determined how training and results go for me.

I've lost two years of my active running. I believe the 2017 World Championships, I was still within the reach of winning, I missed that one. So that also changed my mindset. The way I saw things then is different now.

Are you impressed with the current athletes in the 800m?

DR: Since I left the track there has not been any consistent runners. It’s anybody's race. It is now open. There are Americans, the Africans...

There have been some quick runs in the past two seasons, were you at any point worried about your record?

Nijel Amos is very good, a very good athlete. He has twice run under 1:42. There is also Emmauel Korir. Last year he was close to 1:41.

Going back to 2010. I did some 1:42, then 1:41, before I broke the world record.

In 2012, I also did 1:41 twice, before I broke the world record. That's consistency. I was just coming close and repeating that performance. These guys might run very well today, tomorrow it’s different. They are not even winning.

Yes, Zurich was fast, the first lap was crazy, 48 seconds. He [Amos] could have done better run 1:41, or the world record, but to run 48 seconds in the first lap is crazy. You saw how tough it was for him in the last 100m. If you want to go fast, you must get the right balance.

The 800 meters is very tight. Look back to when Seb Coe broke the world record, and then Wilson Kipketer in the 90s, to 2010 when I broke it. Look at the span, it was just reduced by seconds.

Current and former 800m world record holders.: (L-R) David Rudisha of Kenya, Wilson Kipketer of Denmark, IAAF president Sebastian Coe and Alberto Juantorena of Cuba.

IAAF president Sebastian Coe recently said that the best competition he ever witnessed was your final run in London. Was that also your best competition?

DR: It was one of the best races in an Olympic final. To run right from gun to tape, and with no pacer, to run such a fast time? It’s one of the best races I have ever run.

It was beautiful. Just beautiful! I was proud of myself. After running heats, semis, that takes a lot of energy. It was so amazing!

I often go back every other time and watch this race. Sometimes when I watch it, the emotion... it reminds of when I was there. It was the best, the perfect race!


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