David Rudisha retains Olympic title in 800, cements legacy
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — David Rudisha glanced to his left twice as he came round the final bend, waiting for the challenge to come. It didn't. He didn't let it.
The world-record holder surged across the line to retain his Olympic title in the 800 meters on Monday, giving no one else a chance and becoming the first man in more than half a century to win back-to-back titles over two laps at the Summer Games.
Rudisha won in 1 minute, 42.15 seconds from Algeria's Taoufik Makhloufi, who ran a national record time of 1:42.61 to add an 800 silver here to his gold in the 1,500 at the last Olympics. Clayton Murphy powered through in the final 50 meters for bronze and a PB of 1:42.93, overhauling France's Pierre-Ambroise Bosse to make the podium.
That was the first medal in the 800 for the United States since Johnny Gray in 1992.
Rudisha smiled at the end, a broad, beaming smile, relieved maybe after a trying season where he lost a couple of times in the Diamond League and was beaten into third — third! — at the Kenyan trials. He freely offered up hugs to the other medalists, too, as he draped the red, black and green Kenyan flag across his shoulders once again.
His legacy as one of the greatest 800 runners was pretty firm already, but he cemented it in Rio de Janeiro: The 27-year-old Rudisha has now won four of the last five major titles and the only one missing — the 2013 worlds — he was injured for.
With no strong challenger coming at him — not in this race and not in any general sense, either — Rudisha has the potential to make history with a third straight gold in four years in Tokyo.
"He wants to be the best, he is the best at it, he knows he's the best," said American Boris Berian, who was eighth. "It's that confidence right there. He takes it out and he has that confidence to hold on."
This was unlikely to be like Rudisha's once-in-a-lifetime run at the London Olympics four years ago, when he broke the world record in a wire-to-wire victory of such pure dominance that it was rated as a run for the ages.
Heavy rain in Rio a little earlier Monday night also left Rudisha and the others with a damp track at the Olympic Stadium, and the Kenyan does not like running in the wet.
He dealt with it and more, though, taking the lead from a fast-starting Alfred Kipketer, his teammate, on the back straight, building a cushion, and then never looking like he was going to be caught. His two quick looks to the left let him know that he had it.
Richard Snell of New Zealand was the last man to retain his Olympic title in the 800, at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
Some formidable 800 runners, including current IAAF President Sebastian Coe, didn't even win one Olympic title in the event. Coe, an Olympic champion at 1,500, consistently says that Rudisha is one of the best athletes the sport has had.
For Rudisha, this victory was absolute confirmation, if he needed it, that he's deserving of such praise from former champions.