David Rudisha’s dad inspired him to become the fastest 800m runner there has ever been. Now he’s trying to be the same inspiration to his kids. Easier said than done.
World and Olympic 800m champion David Rudisha has running in his genes. His mother, Naomi, was a 400m hurdler. His father, Daniel, part of Kenya’s grand generation of quartermilers that saw the African nation win Olympic 4x400m silver in 1968 and gold in ’72.
Rudisha senior was David’s main influence. He anchored Kenya’s 4x4 silver medal-winning team at the Mexico City games. Not only did he pass his athletic ability on to his son, but also invaluable advice.
“If you go to the track and run by yourself, you don’t know if you’re going to be a winner or a loser because you have nobody to compete with,” he recalls his father telling him.
“So the people you are competing with are actually the ones who make you become a winner or make you do the best you can. Without them you are nothing and you have to appreciate them.”
Rudisha junior quickly learnt to appreciate his opposition – and to beat them. During his world record 1:40.91 at London 2012, five men went sub-1:42, clinging to the coattails of the greatest two lap run in history. Three national records fell, seven of the eight athletes ran PBs. His dad was on to something.
The 1968 Olympic 4x400m final: Daniel Rudisha runs 44.7 on the anchor leg
Rudisha Jnr is a father himself now. His second daughter was born just days after his victory at the 2015 Beijing World Championships. But just because he followed in his father’s footsteps, his children won’t be forced to continue the family tradition. His first born, Charlene, 6, has a mind of her own.
“It was funny,” he recalls. “I talked to her and I asked her if she liked sports, running. She was like ‘dad, I don’t like running, I don’t like athletics’.”
It was a dagger to his heart, but the Olympic champion took it well. He never wants to push his children in a given direction. “Kids can be very funny,” he explains. “Today they say yes, tomorrow they do the exact opposite and that also depends on the passion they have.”
And just like Rudisha learnt to appreciate his competitors, his daughter has begun to appreciate her father’s passion. “Now, whenever I’m out doing some of my sessions around the compound, exercises, she’s always joining in and imitating what I am doing,” he tells us, proudly.
Rudisha and daughter Charlene training together (photo: James Templeton)
However, Rudisha won’t proclaim her as the next Olympic champion. Seeing his father’s Olympic medal was a huge motivation for him, but since Munich 72 it has been all quiet on the Kenyan medal front in anything but distance events. Until last year, that is, when the world was turned upside down at the world championships: two Kenyans made the 400m hurdles final as Nicholas Bett won a surprise gold.
It was on the very same track at the 2006 World Junior (U20) Championships that Rudisha had laid the foundations for his future successes – not only in his main event. He won the 800m age group world title before helping the Kenyan 4x400m relay to a fourth place finish in a national junior record 3:05.72, missing a medal by fractions of a second
Now, with more Kenyan talent over the one lap distance emerging, Rudisha thinks there is potential to revive the golden relay years his father was part of.
“Of course I am more concentrating on my individual race, which is the 800m. But if Kenya will make a 4x4 team and they make it to the Olympics and if I still feel strong, of course I’m ready to run. [The 400m] is one of the events that I love and my father used to run.”
Rudisha competes in the 4x400m at the World Junior Championships in 2006
With him confident of being able to “do a 45-low” (his 400m PB is 45.50 from 2010), the idea doesn’t appear too far-fetched.
“I am impressed that [the 60s and 70s] are now being revived and we have seen last year that Kenya won the 400m hurdles. And also, we are now represented in the field events – Julius Yego is doing really well in the javelin.”
He believes the emergence of new faces in events outside the distance races “is partly because of the inspiration” provided by the likes of Yego, who became the first Kenyan in history to win a global title in a field event when he took gold at last year’s Beijing World Championships.
“You can run on the road and you can run on your own and get there in the middle and the long distance. But in the sprints [and field events] you need more technical know-how, supervision and most of all someone there who understands it.”
His daughter certainly doesn’t lack any inspiration, with Olympic medallists for her grandpa and father. And if she still doesn’t like running, there’s always the javelin.
“Oh you never know, do you?” he says with his trademark grin.