Over the course of last season, we ran a series of features in the Official Matchday Programme with some Arsenal-supporting London 2012 Olympic hopefuls. We continue with Kenya middle-distance runner David Rudisha...
He has run two laps of the track faster than anyone who has ever lived - and yet many Arsenal fans may well not have heard of 800m world-record holder David Rushida.
You should have done, not least because he’s one of us - and one of many, many Arsenal devotees in his homeland of Kenya.
The 23-year-old is one of the great middle-distance talents of the modern era, a fact confirmed on August 22, 2010 when he ran 1.41.09 for the 800m at an event in Berlin, breaking Wilson Kipketer’s previous world record by two hundredths of a second.
He has since beaten his own record with a best time of 1.41.01 and holds four of the 10 fastest times ever recorded.
The Masai tribesman towers above most of his opponents at a strapping 6’3” and his long stride is expected to chip away at the 800m world record even further.
Winner of the World Championship in Daegu last summer, he is strong favourite to add Olympic gold this summer and with a best of 45.50 for the 400m, David has speed in the genes - his father, Daniel, won a silver medal in the 1968 Olympics as part of the Kenyan 4x400m relay team.
Hi David, can you tell us exactly why you are an Arsenal supporter?
Arsenal is the most supported team in Kenya. I started following them when I was 16, about the time I started training seriously in athletics. My friend and training partner, Sammy Tangui, is completely crazy for Arsenal; we watch games together even in the middle of the night when we’re training in Australia.
Who were your early Arsenal heroes and what did you particularly like about them?
At first Thierry Henry but then more recently Robin van Persie. I like the goalscorers! I like attacking play. These two have been incredible for Arsenal. They have both scored some amazing goals.
Kenya appears to be a hotbed of Arsenal support – why is this and do you know many other Arsenal fans?
I came to support Arsenal because some friends of mine (including Sammy) supported them. I think Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry have been a big reason why they attracted so much support. As more TV coverage came to Kenya – and all of Africa – these were the two players that were so good to watch.
What other teams are popular in Kenya – and are there fierce rivalries between the teams’ supporters?
Yes there are very fierce rivalries of course! Chelsea is, I think, the other most popular supported teams in Kenya. My manager (who is Australian) is crazy for Tottenham and this is the only thing we have problems about!
Kenya is famous for world-class runners but is football a big participation sport too?
In Nairobi there are less runners and many footballers. Football is the most popular sport in Kenya but of course many people closely follow the runners during the Olympics and major championships.
Did you play, and were you any good?!
No I wasn’t! I only played in the village while I was growing up; never seriously but only with my friends at school. I wanted to play like Vieira, I’m tall and strong like him, have the speed and power – but unfortunately not the skill!
Kenya is not noted for producing many great footballers but striker Dennis Oliech, who plays for Auxerre, was once linked with a move to Arsenal. I think we are actually coming up in the world of football. We also have McDonald Mariga, who is a great player and has played at the highest level for Inter Milan [he’s now on loan at Real Sociedad]. I think there will be more to come.
Speaking of strikers, you were at the game against Leeds weren’t you?
Yes, and it was fantastic for me to go to a game at the Emirates. An incredible stadium and atmosphere. And of course just unbelievable to see the return of Thierry Henry and to see him score! That was special for me and something I will never forget.
It’s moments like that which makes football such a great sport isn’t it?
Yes, football is a great sport, a great global sport and people from all nationalities, from all cultures can embrace it.
Track and field has many Arsenal supporters, do you ever speak to Bernard Lagat or Mo Farah about the Gunners?
I haven’t spoken to Mo about our team but I will! Lagat has been too much influenced by our manager, I think he has become more a supporter of Tottenham and this is a problem!
Kelly Sotherton is also a big fan as are American stars David Oliver and Allyson Felix…
I know in America that the Premier League has become more widely followed. The big man David Oliver is a friend of mine, I would like to attend a game with him.
Mo won the World Championships 5000m in a pair of spikes with the Arsenal crest on, would you fancy taking on an 800m with the Gunners on your shoes?!
I didn’t know that! Actually I like to keep it simple, I don’t have any logo or crest, I don’t want to think of anything but my race.
Tell us how your preparation is going for the London Olympics?
Everything is going very well. I’ve trained well and I think I’m ahead of where I’ve been the last two years. I went to Australia in mid-February for training and two pre-season competitions; that was a good chance to test myself at my distance 800 metres as well as run at 400. I am focused and will be ready.
Have you managed to see the Olympic Stadium yet – what did you think?
I was lucky to be taken to the stadium by my friend Seb Coe. He is an 800m man like me and we have a nice friendship that means a lot to me. The stadium looks great. It has steep stands that are all close to the track – I’m sure it will be a fantastic atmosphere in August.
This will be your first Olympics, how excited are you about the prospect?
The Olympics means everything to me and it means everything to my countrymen. To be world champion and world-record holder makes me very proud but the Olympics is very special. To win the Olympics is the highest honour in my sport and in my country.
After your World Championship win you will be favourite for gold, are you concerned about the pressure this puts you under?
No I don’t worry about what others say. I have my own expectations and don’t worry about what others expect. You must be very strong mentally and you can’t be worried about others and their expectations.
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