The Greatest Race
The Olympic Men’s 800 meters was one of the greatest races I have ever seen. Not only did the winner, David Rudisha set a World Record, but there was a world junior record and an Ethiopian national record set as well.
Moments before the race on August 9, 2012, I leaned over and told Malinda, “If there was ever a distance event where we could see a World Record in the Olympic Final, this is it.” A few minutes later, Rudisha made me look like a psychic.
As soon as the gun sounded to start the race, Rudisha sprinted out hard. He managed to hold off Abubaker Kaki to claim the inside position and the lead after they cut in. Rudisha came through the first 200 meters in 24 seconds and hit the halfway mark at 49 seconds. He was definitely on World Record pace. What was interesting, however, was that the field was not getting left in his jetstream. Rudisha was running really really fast but the other seven runners were getting pulled along to some fast times, too. When Rudisha hit 600 meters at 1:14, my head almost exploded as I tried to calculate what kind of time he was on pace to run.
My eyes then shifted to the rest of the pack. American Duane Solomon was positioned in sixth place but appeared ready to make a move for a medal. The other American, Nick Symmonds, had been in last place for most of the race and was still there with 100 meters to go but then seemed to come alive and he, too, was making a sprint to get a medal. I screamed for Solomon. I screamed for Symmonds. Then I heard the crowd, that had already been deafening loud, get even louder. I looked to the left to see that Rudisha had finished and then I checked the time on the scoreboard. It initially read “unofficial 1:41.0.” Rudisha owned the previous World Record of 1:41.01 so if the time held, he would have World Record by .01 seconds. A few seconds later the official time flashed on the scoreboard and it was even faster. 1:40.91! Rudisha had become the first runner to ever break 1:41 in the 800 meters. To put that in perspective, prior to this race, besides Rudisha, only three other runners had ever broken 1:42 (Wilson Kipketer, Sebastian Coe, and Joaquim Cruz).
The others in this field were also amazingly fast. Seven of the eight runners ran a personal record (PR), with the eighth running a season best.
Eighteen year-old Nijel Amos of Botswana won the silver medal with a 1:41.73. That time made Amos the fifth runner to ever break 1:42, earned him a new world junior record (for athletes who do not turn twenty at any time during the calendar year in which the mark is made) and tied Amos for the eighth fastest 800 time in history. All this from an athlete who entered the Olympics with a PR of 1:43.11
Kenyan Timoth Kitum, who had only the seventh best PR out of the field before the race started, ran a 1.41 second PR to win the bronze, holding off four other runners who all finished within 0.79 seconds of each other.
The Americans, Solomon and Symmonds, came up just short in their bid for a medal. But they could hardly be disappointed with their times. Solomon’s 1:42.82 and Symmonds” 1:42.95 make them the second and third fastest American 800 runners of all-time, behind only Solomon’s coach, Johnny Gray (1:42.60 set in 1985). Obviously these were PR’s for both Solomon and Symmonds and they are just the second and third Americans (along with Gray) to dip under the 1:43 mark.
Sixth placer Mohammed Aman of Ethiopia, who is only nineteen years-old set a national record with his 1:43.20. Aman improved on his own national record, which was 1:43.37. Aman has steadily been lowering the Ethiopian record over the last two years. The last person before Aman to hold the Ethiopian national record in the 800 meters was Berhanu Alemu, who ran 1:45.28 in 2004.
Abubaker Kaki of Sudan was the only runner in the field not to run a PR (his PR is 1:42.23). However, it was a season best for Kaki, who ran 1:43.32. It was Kaki’s junior world record of 1:42.69 that Amos broke.
The last place finisher, Andrew Osagie of Great Britain, ran 1:43.77, which was a PR. That time would have won gold at the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Olympics. The only Olympic 800 meters in history where 1:43.77 would not have medaled was 1996. For Osagie, 1:43.77 got him a personal record but also last place!
Often in a World Record setting race, at least in a distance race, the record setter has pace setters or rabbits and the record setting runner tends to finish far ahead of the rest of the field. The lack of both rabbits and a gap is what made this race so special. The depth of this 800 race was like no other 800 in history. From first place to eighth place, the runners put up incredible times. Records and PR’s were the norm in this race, the greatest 800 race of all-time.
1 David Lekuta Rudisha KEN 1:40.91 (WR)
2 Nijel Amos BOT 1:41.73 (WJ)
3 Timothy Kitum KEN 1:42.53 (PB)
4 Duane Solomon USA 1:42.82 (PB)
5 Nick Symmonds USA 1:42.95 (PB)
6 Mohammed Aman ETH 1:43.20 (NR)
7 Abubaker Kaki SUD 1:43.32 (SB)
8 Andrew Osagie GBR 1:43.77 (PB)