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)
Last Sunday, August 22, 2010, in Berlin, David Rudisha set a new world record in the 800 meters, running 1:41.09, two one hundredths of a second faster than the previous record by Wilson Kipketer in 1997.
Rudisha’s record run was not necessarily unexpected. Earlier this summer when Rudisha clocked a 1:41.51, I wrote a blog that included the short list of runners who have run sub-1:42 in the 800. Rudisha has seemed primed to go after the record since July. Shortly before the record run, Rudisha’s agent James Templeton sent LetsRun.com an e-mail that outlined Rudisha’s race plans:
“There are some good races still to come (Berlin, Brussels, Rieti, Split … yes of course he will run some of these starting with Berlin) and he has been training well since (the) African Championships in order (to) come out and impress in these last weeks. You might recall he had a great finish to last year and that is his intention again this year …If he had come straight from Nairobi and run Stockholm and London I dare say he would be fading by season-end. This way he comes into them fresh and hungry to run fast. I would have thought that is prudent. No it does not come down to money; we’ve had a good season and there is a good bit left in the tank.”
It appears that Rudisha likes to take a break from racing in the middle of the summer to concentrate on training. Then he comes back and ends the season with some of his fastest times.
In the aftermath of his record run there has been a media frenzy. My favorite links from the media frenzy are:
The excitement in the 800 meters may not be over yet. If you watch the above linked videos of Rudisha’s new world record and Kipketer’s world record from 1997 you notice that both runners had rabbits for the first part of the race but ran alone and way ahead of the field over the last 200 meters. Just think how fast Rudisha might run if he were pushed. That could be the case when he races against Sudan’s Abubaker Kaki in Brussels on Friday. Then, on Sunday in the Athletics meeting in Rieti, he will have pace makers to attempt to improve on his own world record. Could we see the first sub-1:41?
Don’t miss this great 800 meter action.
I came upon some lists on LetsRun.com that, as a distance running fan, caught my interest. I have copied the lists below and I make no claim to have done the research to create or verify the lists. I take no responsibility if there are inaccuracies. But I read them with interest.
The Seven 1:41s in History:
1:41.11 – Wilson Kipketer – August 24, 1997
1:41.24 – Wilson Kipketer – August 13, 1997
1:41.51 – David Rudisha – July 10, 2010
1:41.73 – Sebastian Coe – June 10, 1981
1:41.73 – Wilson Kipketer – July 7 1997
1:41.77 – Joaquim Cruz – August 26, 1984
1:41.83 – Wilson Kikpeter – September 1, 1996
Running under 1:42 in the 800 meters is an amazing feat. It had only been done six times in history up until last week when Kenya’s David Rudisha, only twenty-one years old, added his name to the list with a 1:41.51. Sebastian Coe was the first sub-1:42 runner when he set a new world record of 1:41.73 in 1981. Three years later in 1984, Joaquim Cruz became the second runner to ever run under 1:42 for 800 meters. Coe and Cruz would be the exclusive members of this club for twelve years. Finally in September of 1996, Wilson Kipketer became the third person to achieve the feat. Kipketer was not done. Cementing himself as the greatest 800 runner of all-time, Kipketer ran sub-1:42 three times in a seven week period in 1997. First Kipketer tied Coe’s world record of 1:41.73. Then he bettered it with a 1:41.24. Then he set what still stands as the world record, 1:41.11.
Thirteen years would pass before Rudisha became the fourth man to run sub-1:42. Two fellow Kenyans rabitted the race through a 49 second first lap. The first rabbit dropped out at the that point and the second rabbit pushed through until the 500 meter mark. Then it was all Rudisha. You can see tremendous focus in his eyes and great arm pumping action as he fights down the final straightaway all alone (second place was three seconds behind him) to become the second fastest 800 runner in history.
Rudisha father, Daniel Rudisha, is a former runner who won silver at the 1968 Olympics as part of the Kenyan 4×400 meter relay team. Unfortunately, the son has not yet been able to match his father’s medal, he failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics and failed to make the 800 final at the 2009 World Championships. But his young age and solid progression in the 800 meters (2006-1:46.3; 2007-1:44.15; 2008-1:43.72; 2009-1:42.01; 2010-1:41.51) suggests that he may be on the cusp of breaking Kipketer’s world record. Be sure to keep an eye out for his name, and if he’s racing at 800 meters you may want to check out the race because it could be a world record!
USA Women’s Sub-4:05 1500’s (through 7/10/10):
Mary Slaney, 34
Suzy Favor Hamilton, 24
Regina Jacobs, 21
Christin Wurth-Thomas, 11
Shannon Rowbury, 11
PattiSue Plumer, 7
Ruth Wysocki, 5
Diana Richburg, 4
Anna Willard Pierce, 3
Morgan Uceny, 3
Jenny Barringer, 2
Nicole Teter, 2
Sarah Schwald, 2
Treniere Clement Moser, 2
Cindy Bremser, 1
Claudette Groenendaal, 1
Darlene Beckford, 1
Erin Donohue, 1
Janice Merrill, 1
Kim Gallagher, 1
Linda Sheskey, 1
Marla Runyan, 1
Sue Addison, 1
– 140 total sub-4:05 performances; 33 by current athletes (24%)
– 23 different USA women have run sub-4:05; 7 current athletes (30%)
I am not sure what to make of this list. It’s an interesting way to look at some of the top 1500 meter women of all-time. But keep in mind that there are many ways to consider how “good” a runner is. Here is a look at finishing place at World Championships and Olympics.
US Women 1500 meters top 8 finishes at World Championships and Olympics
Mary Decker Slaney – 1st (1983 WC), 8th (1988 Oly)
Regina Jacobs – 2nd (1997 WC), 2nd (1999 WC)
Shannon Rowbury – 3rd (2009 WC), 7th (2008 Oly)
Christin Wurth-Thomas – 5th (2009 WC)
Anna Willard Pierce – 6th (2009 WC)
Ruth Wysocki – 7th (1995 WC), 8th (1984 Oly)
Diana Richburg – 7th (1987 WC)
Marla Runyan – 8th (2000 Oly)
Should Suzy Favor Hamilton be considered the #2 1500 runner in US history? She ran sub-4:05 24 times (#2 on the list above) and her PR of 3:57.40 is the second fastest of all-time (see list below). But she never placed in the top eight at a World Championships or Olympics.
Another way to compare athletes is to look at their PR:
US Women 1500 meters all-time
1. Mary Slaney, 3:57.12 – 07/26/83
2, Suzy Favor Hamilton, 3:57.40 – 07/28/00
3. Anna Willard, 3:59.38 – 08/28/09
4. Jenny Barringer, 3:59.90 – 06/07/09
5. Christin Wurth-Thomas, 3:59.98 – 07/10/09
6. Ruth Wysocki, 4:00.18 – 06/24/84
7. Shannon Rowbury, 4:00.33 – 07/18/08
8. Regina Jacobs, 4:00.35 – 08/29/99
9. Diana Richburg, 4:01.79 – 09/05/87
10. Morgan Uceny, 4:02.34 – 07/08/10
It’s worth noting that five of the top ten US runners of all-time are currently active. Also, Treniere Clement Moser (4:03.32 in 2006) and Erin Donohue (4:03.91 in 2010) are currently competing, too. The US currently has seven sub-4:05 runners.
The sub-4:05 list is about how often a runner was able to run a quality mark than about how good that quality mark was. For example, where should PattieSue Plumer rank when one considers the best 1500 meter runners in US history? She did break 4:05 seven times. But her PR of 4:03.42 does not rank among the ten best in US history. Perhaps someone has a large number of sub-4:05’s because they liked to race a lot or had more race opportunities.
I asked Ruth Wysocki, two top eight championship finishes, #6 US all-time, and five sub-4:05 races, what she thinks of the sub-4:05 list. Ruth told me that she would be interested in seeing what percentage of an individual’s 1500’s were sub-4:05. She pointed out that Mary Slaney probably had a very high percentage of her races sub-4:05 and while Regina Jacobs didn’t race as much as Slaney, when she raced she tended to be ready to go so Jacobs probably had a high percentage of her races at sub-4:05. Ruth, on the other hand, said that she tended to race her way into shape so she had more races that were over 4:05 on the way to her peak performances.
What stands out on the sub-4:05 list to me is how many runners from the same era appear. Slaney, Plumer, Wysocki, Richburg, Bremser, Groenendaal, Gallagher, Sheskey, and Addison were all competing in the 80’s together. And now Wurth-Thomas, Rowbury, Pierce, Uceny, Barringer, Moser, and Donohue all face off against one another. I think it takes one or two individuals to set the bar high and then others strive to reach that level as well.
No matter what list you look at or how you analyze it, we are currently in a special time for the men’s 800 and for the US women’s 1500. Sit back and enjoy the fast running as people run fast times that will require these lists to be re-written.