David Rudisha Will Not Defend His Olympic 800-Meter Title in 2021

By Jonathan Gault
May 18, 2021

There will be a new Olympic 800-meter champion in 2021.

Kenya’s David Rudisha, the 800m world record holder and winner of the last two Olympic titles, will not compete in 2021, his agent Michel Boeting confirmed to LetsRun.com. Rudisha, 32, has not competed since July 2017, enduring a number of setbacks in the ensuing four years. Rudisha’s aim was to return and attempt to become the first man to win three Olympic 800 titles, but it has become clear that, with the Olympics less than three months away, he is not fit enough to mount a serious challenge in 2021.

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“He stopped the 2017 season with an injury which took some time to establish what it was,” Boeting says. “We found out what was the problem around April-May 2018. But it takes time to heal. So 2018 the season was written off already. Then he started working again in 2019. He trained, but [his] motivation was really for the Olympics, not for anything else, so maybe that held him back a little. Then 2020, he started but then the whole COVID thing came. Then he [fractured his ankle], which threw him back again. And since then, it’s hard to get fit.”

Rudisha after winning his third 800m world title in 2015

In addition to Rudisha’s assorted injury issues — which include a quad strain that kept him from the 2017 World Championships and a problem with the tendon that attaches to his sitting bone in addition to his fractured ankle in May 2020 — he has endured a difficult four years from a personal perspective. He separated from his wife. In 2019, Rudisha lost his father, Daniel, a 1968 Olympic medalist in the 4×400 relay, in March and survived a scary car crash in August.

While unable to train, Rudisha partied and put on weight, which made his subsequent comeback efforts more difficult. Boeting says that while Rudisha’s ankle is now healed, there simply is not enough time for Rudisha to gain the fitness required to defend his Olympic title in Tokyo.

Boeting says that Rudisha is not officially retired.

“He is contemplating his future,” Boeting says. “That is for him to decide.”

But at age 32, almost four years removed from his last competition, it is possible that David Rudisha, the greatest 800-meter runner of them all, has run his last race. For the last four years, the chance to become the first man in history to win three Olympic 800 titles is the one goal that motivated a man who has accomplished everything else in the sport. Now that that goal has been removed — or postponed until Paris three years from now — is there anything that can drive Rudisha to return to the sport he dominated for a decade?

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