David Rudisha of Kenya won the men’s 800 metres Olympic title in a stunning new world record of 1 minute 40.91 seconds.
The 23-year-old world champion was five metres clear of Nijel Amos of Botswana after taking control of the race from an early stage and charged down the home straight as the capacity crowd rose to their feet.
Amos timed 1:41.73 — a world junior record — to win Botswana’s first ever Olympic medal in athletics while another Kenyan, Timothy Kitum, took the bronze in a personal best of 1:42.53. It was the first world record in an 800 metres Olympic final since Cuba’s Alberto Juantorena set the mark in the 1976 final.
Rudisha revealed he had visited the Olympic Stadium earlier this year and was shown around by Sebastian Coe, whose world record in the event set in 1981 lasted for 16 years.
“Lord Coe is a very good friend of mine and I was here early in February and he took me round the stadium and I said I would come here and run to make him proud,” he said. “To come here and break the world record is something unbelievable.
“I was well-prepared this year and I had no doubt about winning. But I was waiting for perfect conditions to break the world record because I knew this year I was in the shape to run 1.40.
“But today the weather was beautiful so I decided just to go for it.”
Rudisha’s supreme talent had already drawn high praise from Coe, who ahead of the race had described Rudisha as “the outstanding 800m runner of his generation”.
“And I will say it, probably on paper the most impressive track and field athlete at these Games — I would say that, wouldn’t I?” said Coe, who ironically never won the 800m Olympic gold, though he won two in the 1500m.
In what was probably overall the fastest 800m race of all time, seven of the eight finalists set personal bests — Andrew Osagie’s eighth-place time of 1:43.77 would have been good enough for gold in the 2008 Olympic final.
Meanwhile, Caster Semenya was eye-catchingly quick in the women’s 800m semi-finals. A week before the Olympics, the South African dawdled around the track in Monaco at a Diamond League meet disinterested and at the back of the pack. But in London tonight, she was very interested and far from dawdling, surging with 200m to go and commanding the pack. She has a size and presence on the track that when she goes she gusts past the pack.
She won her semi-final by two metres in a time of 1:57.67, the third fastest time she has ever run. Ominously, the only times she has run faster were in the last two world championships — in Daegu last year when she won silver, and in Berlin when she won gold.