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David Rudisha seeks relay duel with Usain Bolt

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London 2012 Olympics: David Rudisha seeks relay duel with Usain Bolt

Two of the greatest runners in history could go head to head in the 4x400m relay final at the London Olympics, Rudisha for the Kenya team and Bolt for Jamaica

By Andy Bull in Doha,
Wednesday 9 May 2012

David Rudisha seeks relay duel with Usain Bolt David-Rudisha-of-Kenya-008
Kenya's David Rudisha, the 800m world record holder, is hoping for a showdown
with Usain Bolt in the relay at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Photograph: Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images

The Olympic 4x400m relay final could bring two of the greatest runners in history together for the first time. David Rudisha, the world record holder over 800m, says he is planning to run in the relay for Kenya. His decision raises the intriguing prospect that the 4x400m final could become a showdown of sorts between Rudisha and Usain Bolt, who is considering competing in the event for Jamaica. Rudisha is even hoping that they get paired together on the anchor leg.

Bolt and Rudisha have said that their decision to run in the 4x400m will hinge on the performances of their team-mates. Jermaine Gonzales, Jamaica's leading 400m runner, Bolt's best friend in athletics and a Guardian Olympic diarist, says that "right now Usain is in the mindset where he will run the 4x400m with us at the Olympics". Gonzales says Bolt "has promised me a leg" on the condition that "the rest of the squad is good enough to compete for the gold".

Similarly, Rudisha says: "If the Kenyan team make the Olympic final then I will be ready to offer help, to be part of it. I think this year I am quite flexible."

The Kenyan relay quartet finished sixth in the world championship final in Daegu last year, while the Jamaicans came in third, behind South Africa and the USA. Rudisha has already run a 400m this year, in Sydney in February, as part of his speed training for his outdoor season. His father, Daniel, won silver at the 1968 Olympics as part of the Kenyan 4x400m team, and Rudisha says that gives him a little extra incentive. "It would be good for me to win gold, so we can have gold and silver in our family so I can tell him 'I am better than you.'"

Rudisha, a modest and softly spoken man, burst into wide grin when he considered the prospect of sharing the track with Bolt. "People have been saying that Usain might run it [the 4x400m] for some time. It would be a very interesting race. Maybe we will be doing the last leg together, that would be great."

Bolt's best over one lap of the track is 45.28sec, while Rudisha's is 45.50sec. But neither man has ever run the distance when there has been anything serious at stake. Rudisha says 400m would be the perfect distance for the two to race at because "it will be our middle point, I will have come down to 400m, and he will come up to 400m, we will meet in the middle and it will be fun, we will enjoy it".

"Bolt is fast, he has speed, that I don't have," Rudisha says, "but I have the mileage, so we will see how it goes. It will be fun, it will be enjoyable to watch for the fans."

The two men may both be great champions, but they have very different personalities and profiles. Rudisha's 800m world record of 1min 41.01sec has not earned him anything like the wider recognition that Bolt has, and it is easy to see why. "Everything changes when you do something special," he says of his world record. "The environment around you, how people approach you, the respect they give you. But when it comes to training and focus you don't have to change just because you are the world record holder. It is good to be humble and to keep doing what you have been doing."

Humility is not the first word that comes to mind when you think of Bolt. Despite that, he and Rudisha get on well when they meet. "Usain is a great athlete, the greatest sprinter we have seen," Rudisha says. "We celebrate together as brothers and friends. We meet sometimes, and talk as friends, exchanging a few words, making fun, we share things, we see what each other is doing and we are happy about it."

Rudisha's focus is fixed firmly on the Olympic 800m final. As for Bolt, a medal in the 4x400m relay would be little more than a cherry on top of the cake. "This year is Olympic year and that is my main focus, my priority," says Rudisha, who missed the 2008 Games because he was injured in the buildup. "I am desperate to win the Olympics – so far that is what I am missing."

His first race of the season will be at the Diamond League meeting in Doha on Friday, when he will be going head to head with Ethiopia's Mohammed Aman, the one man to beat Rudisha in 2011. That is a real rivalry, but the hypothetical clash against Bolt could get a lot more hype in the months ahead.

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