July 31, 2014
No matter what he does, David Rudisha just can’t beat Nijel Amos in 2014.
After taking the pace out quickly in their first two meetings and losing — at the Pre Classic on May 31 and in Monaco on July 18 — Rudisha led the first 400 of Thursday’s Commonwealth Games men’s 800 final in a glacial (for him) 52.71 seconds. But, just as he did to win at Pre and in Monaco, Amos used an otherworldly burst of speed over the final 100 meters to get out of a box and pull away for the win in 1:45.18, reversing the order from the London Olympic final two years ago. Rudisha had to settle for silver in 1:45.48 while South Africa’s Andre Olivier took bronze in 1:46.03.
Rudisha may be the reigning Olympic champion and world record holder, but Thursday’s race was more proof that Amos — the 2014 world leader at 1:42.45 and winner of arguably the three biggest races of the year — is the king of the 800 right now. We break down the race below with quick takes.
The conditions in Glasgow — rainy, with a soaked track and a temperature of about 60 degrees — were not the best for a fast race. As expected, Rudisha went to the front early, but after a first 200 of 24.5, he slowed it down and came through 400 meters just 52.71. At the bell, it was Rudisha in first, with Amos and Australia’s Jeffrey Riseley running side-by-side in the next two spots. Kenya’s Ferguson Cheruiyot Rotich was fourth behind them on the outside with Olivier in fifth place on the inside.
Cheruiyot began to move up on the first turn of the final lap and as the runners entered the back stretch, he led Rudisha and the field by half a step on the outside. As they hit 600 in 1:19.77, Cheruiyot and Rudisha still led with Amos behind Rudisha in lane 1.
Rudisha created a gap on Cheruiyot heading into the home stretch while Amos was boxed in with Riseley to his left on the inside of lane 1, Olivier to his right and Cheruiyot directly in front of him. Amos knew he would have to get out if he was going to catch Rudisha, and at the 100m to go mark, he took one quick step to the outside in front of Olivier and found the space he needed.
Immediately, the 20-year-old Amos began to accelerate, quickly eating up ground between himself and Rudisha. With about 30 meters to go, Amos caught him, but he wasn’t sticking around: he blew by the world-record holder without a second thought. So confident was Amos in his victory that he stuck his arms — and tongue! — out with a good 10 meters to go. But this was not some brash mistake like Taoufik Makhloufi’s stunt in Shanghai earlier this year. It was the exultation of a man who knew he was untouchable: Amos was pulling away from Rudisha while celebrating. Rudisha, with his long legs driving forward and his arms pumping in textbook running form, was powerless to resist as Amos came through for another victory. He would have to settle for silver, unfamiliar territory for Rudisha in a major international final.
Results (from the BBC)
|3||Andre Olivier||South Africa||1:46.03|
|4||Ferguson Cheruiyot Rotich||Australia||1:46.09|
Quick Take #1: Nijel Amos is #1 in the world right now.
There’s a case to be made for Ethiopia’s world indoor/outdoor champ Mo Aman (defeated Amos in Doha, 2nd at Pre, won Rome, 3rd in Monaco), but Amos has beaten Aman the last two times he’s faced him, has the world lead and has won the three biggest races of the year (Pre, Monaco, Commonwealths — though Aman obviously couldn’t run in the latter).
The Amos-Rudisha debate should be tabled for the time being. Rudisha is very good, but he’s now just 1-3 against Amos in his career (and he had to run a world record to get that victory). If Rudisha comes back next year in his pre-injury shape, it becomes an argument again. But Amos is so good that Rudisha can’t afford to be at anything less than his best and he’s not quite there right now.
Look at the photos below and watch the race video below that (which we’ve set to start at the start time of the race). Amos was boxed with no momentum, five meters behind the greatest 800m runner ever with less than 100m to go, and Amos made this no contest.
Amos 5 meters back, gets out of the box:
Race video (link fixed)
(you may have to hit start twice).
Quick Take #2: Could Rudisha have done anything differently to win?
To us, the answer to this is no. Rudisha is a front-runner — that’s how he runs races and it wouldn’t make sense for him to completely change his tactics for a championship final. In their first two meetings, Rudisha tucked in behind the rabbit and led most of the way at a quick pace. That didn’t work; Amos beat him both times. So as a front-runner, the only thing for Rudisha to do to change his tactics is to take it out slower for the first 400, which he did on Thursday. Unfortunately for Rudisha, that didn’t work either as Amos once again came from behind in the final 100 for the victory.
The change to a slower pace was still a big one for Rudisha. We can’t remember the last time he went out this slow (52.71) for the first 400 of a race. Here’s a look at what the rabbit went out in for Rudisha’s four races this year:
Monaco DL: 49.41
Glasgow DL: 49.94
NY DL: 50.48
Pre DL: 49.82
In the Olympic final in 2012, it was even faster: 49.28 for Rudisha (no rabbit, obviously). The closest race Rudisha has run to this one was the 2011 World Championship final. In that race, Rudisha went out in just 51.23 but pulled away from everyone over the final 100 to win in 1:43.91.
Amos was going to win this race no matter how it was run (as long as he wasn’t boxed in until the finish), and Rudisha deserves credit for mixing it up and trying something new to beat him when it was clear the old way wasn’t working. He just got beat by the better man today.
Quick Take #3: The next three years are going to be incredible in the men’s 800.
The event may seem great now with Rudisha, Amos, Aman and rising talents like Pierre-Ambroise Bosse (who, it should be noted, is two years older than both Amos and Aman). But with two Worlds and an Olympics over the next three years, the return of 2013 Worlds silver medallist Nick Symmonds of the U.S. and (hopefully) a Rudisha that is 100% recovered from his knee injury, 2015, 2016 and 2017 should be certifiably insane. Symmonds will be 34 in 2017 and perhaps a bit past it at the end of that stretch, but of the other names mentioned, Rudisha is the oldest and will still be in his prime (28) in ’17. One other name to watch for: 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Timothy Kitum of Kenya. Kitum struggled last year but he’s still only 19 and ran 1:43.65 two weeks ago to win his season debut in Heusden.
Quick Take #4: Despite beating him in all 3 of their meetings this year, Amos still has a lot of respect for Rudisha.
The Guardian reported that after the race when asked if he was now “the man” in the 800, Amos said, “No. I will only think that if I break the world record five times. Rudisha is a good man and has such sportsmanship. Every time I run with him it makes me grow up. … I’d like next year for us to help each other to break the world record. I don’t care who does it, but I want us both to run fast.”
Quick Take #5: What a week for Guy Learmonth.
Learmonth, the local favorite, ran an impressive 1:46.85 in Beijing in May but had struggled since and was only fifth in last month’s UK Championships. But he was the third qualifier from his heat yesterday and ran a PR of 1:46.69 today to finish sixth, the fastest time for a Scottish athlete since Paul Walker in 1997.