David Rudisha at the Bird's Nest stadium ahead of the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 (© Getty Images)
Two days before the start of the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015, two of the expected stars of the upcoming competition, Kenya middle distance great David Rudisha and US sprinter Tori Bowie, had a chance to visit the Bird’s Nest with an unusual mission.
The athletes braved the broiling sun, and high humidity, and took the media through their pre-race routine, from the warm-up area through two call rooms and onto the track.
“It’s the best weather!” joked the 800m world record-holder and London 2012 Olympic Games gold medallist. “I did well in Daegu at the World Championships in 2011, and it was just as hot. I also ran in Beijing in 2006, at the world juniors, and won, as well.”
Rudisha not only won his first global title in Beijing, he also got his ‘Pride of Africa’ nickname here, and the Kenyan feels ready to stand up to it.
Coming off a knee injury sustained in 2013, Rudisha has not been as dominant since but the Kenyan seems to enjoy the status of an underdog.
“The pressure is off me and it feels good. Nobody is unbeaten in the 800m this season, so it will come down to the final, it’s pretty much an open race,” he noted.
After the last stretch of training back home near Nairobi, Rudisha has no doubts in his shape, as well.
“I was lacking my (usual) finishing speed in the last races, but it never went away completely, as I’m more of a 400-800 type of a runner, so I have it in me.
“It was just a matter of refreshing that muscle memory. During this last month I had good set of speed training sessions, like 300 and 200 repeats. And, in fact, some of the sessions were faster than ever before,” revealed the Kenyan.
Speed equals strategy options
Having that speed back also means that Rudisha can successfully vary his race strategy again.
He demonstrated this at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London last month, where he finished a close second after running from behind and attempting overhaul eventual winner Nijel Amos, but just coming up short.
“Choice between running from the front or from behind, but not really far from the front pack, will depend on how I feel on the race day,” said Rudisha. “I’m confident that I can run the race from anywhere. And, I know, I can win the competition.”
Tori Bowie has found herself in a similar situation to Rudisha.
What started as the best season of her career in 2014, with multiple IAAF Diamond League victories and personal bests, ended in August with a hamstring injury.
The American has been slowly clawing her way back to the top this season.
“I can’t really put a lot of pressure on myself, it’s my first time competing at this level,” said Bowie. “I just want to enjoy the moment. Of course, I don’t want to leave without getting on the podium but I need to just focus on doing what I’ve been doing in training, and everything should go well.”
Bowie admitted that she is in a better shape coming into the World Championships than before the US Championships in June, where she won with a time of 10.81, and the athlete is welcoming the intense competition ahead of her.
“I strive off of competition. I can feel everyone in the race very well and if it’s a close one, I can step up,” Bowie admitted. “I’m not scared right now. I’m actually more anxious than nervous.”
The sprinter expects that she will have to step up to win a medal.
Having a personal best of 10.80 from last year, Bowie ran a wind-aided 10.72 in Eugene this summer but, in her own words, it didn’t feel fast enough.
“10.7 is not going to win it,” Bowie smiled.
What will, remains to be seen but at least both Rudisha and Bowie have got a head start on their rivals in getting a feel for the track that will stage this year’s premier sporting event from 22-30 August.
Elena Dyachkova for the IAAF