Mike Rowbottom

It was the Moment of the Decade, according to World Athletics. It was the Race of the Decade, according to letsrun.com. Two pretty good judges.

We are talking, unsurprisingly, about David Rudisha’s gun-to-tape - I know there’s no longer a tape but it’s a wonderful phrase -  victory in the London 2012 Olympic 800 metres final - in a world record time of 1min 40.91sec.

The first - and thus far only - sub-1.41 800m. In a race where he was his own pacemaker for every single moment. In the biggest, most important race of all.

The World Athletics decision was arrived at via its Instagram page.

In the final stage of voting, Rudisha was up against Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record of 2 hours 01min 39sec - yes, the actual, official world record - from Berlin in 2018. Rudisha won by 1,151 votes to 939.

Meanwhile letsrun.com commented: "The result was far from a surprise as Rudisha’s race was utterly dominant throughout our contest, garnering at least 70 per cent of the vote in every single round."

By the time this phenomenal Kenyan got to the Olympic Stadium he was already world record holder, having bettered the mark of 1:41.11 set by Denmark’s adopted Kenyan Wilson Kipketer in 1997 with times of 1:41.09 and then 1:41.01 in 2010.

In the intervening year Rudisha had won his first world title in Daegu in South Korea, and he arrived at the Games with the four fastest times of the season to his credit.

He was in the zone. Everyone thought he would win. But few could have forecast the totality of his performance.

As World Athletics note, before the race he spoke to his Kenyan team-mate Timothy Kitum and told him: "Don’t follow me or you’ll die towards the end. Go for the silver."

Kitum took bronze in the end, in 1:42.53, one of seven of the eight finalists to earn a personal best on that day. The silver medallist, 18-year-old Nijel Amos of Botswana, set a world junior record of 1:41.73, equalling the mark set by the current World Athletics President Sebastian Coe which had stood for 16 years until Kipketer bettered it in 1997. It remains a personal best for Amos.

Rudisha passed 200m in 23.4sec and 400m in 49.28. He had a two-metres lead as he entered the back straight for the second time and his advantage grew as he reached 600m in 1:14.30. And continued.

David Rudisha at the high point - Olympic 800m champion at the London 2012 Games, having set a world record of 1:40.91 after leading every step of the race ©Getty Images
David Rudisha at the high point - Olympic 800m champion at the London 2012 Games, having set a world record of 1:40.91 after leading every step of the race ©Getty Images

" have waited for this moment for a long time," Rudisha said. "I had no doubt about winning, but to come here and get a world record is unbelievable."

At the press conference held a year before the London Olympics to publicise the two-day Diamond League meeting at Crystal Palace, Rudisha had recalled how Coe had inspired him.

In recent years, Rudisha said, he had studied a number of Coe's races on YouTube to enhance his career. The two men met had met for the first time in June 2010 at the Diamond League meeting in Oslo, where the Kenyan beat Coe's 31-year-old stadium - and initially world - record of 1min 42.33sec, recording 1:42.04 to win a monumental race against Sudan's double World Indoor champion Abubaker Kaki.

"Sebastian congratulated me and told me, 'You are the future of the 800 metres'," Rudisha recalled. "He told me that if I trained hard and kept focused, I was capable of breaking the world record.

"I was really happy and felt encouraged. I felt that if he thought I was capable of achieving that, I would keep it to myself and take it into my training and work harder."

Well, that worked out all right. And while Coe was not eligible to vote, he has made it clear on several occasions that Rudisha’s London 2012 flourish will always be one of his cherished athletics moments.

I was fortunate enough to have been there in the Olympic Stadium on August 9 to witness that supreme athletic moment in company with around 80,000 others in real life, and countless millions televisually. It was the kind of moment that makes you actually shudder.

But I would be lying if I said it had the same impact upon me as Filbert Bayi’s world 1500m record run in 1974.

That may partly be the fact that I was somewhat younger when I witnessed it, albeit that I was only watching a television screen rather than being in the stadium at Christchurch in New Zealand where that epic Commonwealth Games 1500m final took place.

There were some fine runners in the London final. But that 1974 final, I would humbly submit. was stacked with more talent.

Kenya had Mike Boit, who had already won 800m silver and would go on to win 800m gold at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton. 

They also had Ben Jipcho, the Olympic 1972 silver medallist in the 3,000m steeplechase who took gold at those same Games in the steeplechase and the 5,000m.

Britain’s Brendan Foster, narrowly beaten to 5,000m gold by Jipcho and later that year to win the European title ahead of Finland’s Lasse Viren, was also in the 1500m final.

As were two huge home talents - Rod Dixon, the 1972 Olympic 1500m bronze medallist, and the up-and-coming force of John Walker, who would become the first man to break 3:50 for the mile a year later and would take the Olympic 1500m title in 1976.

And there was Tanzania’s Filbert Bayi…

That race proved to be one of the great contests, not just of the decade, but ever.

The occasion was celebrated last month at the World Athletics Heritage Mile Night in Monaco - and all due honour was paid to Bayi, who produced one of the most audacious performances in athletics history as he led from gun to tape (yep) to win gold in a world record of 3:32.2 - or 3:32.16 as the new-fangled electric timing witnessed.

Filbert Bayi beats John Walker to the 1974 Commonwealth 1500m title in Christchurch as both run inside the world record ©Getty Images
Filbert Bayi beats John Walker to the 1974 Commonwealth 1500m title in Christchurch as both run inside the world record ©Getty Images

The 20-year-old Tanzanian took almost a second off the 1967 mark of 3:33.1 set by Jim Ryun of the United States - also present in Monaco - with home runner Walker - another honoured guest – chasing him down the final straight.

Speaking after the assembled fellow athletes and guests had had another opportunity to view the closing stages of that stupendous competition in Christchurch, Bayi reflected with wry satisfaction upon his landmark achievement.

"When I arrived in New Zealand nobody took much notice," Bayi said. "My friend John Walker was a citizen of New Zealand, so the money was put on him. But John knew me. And we knew that something might happen there because there were also some very good Kenyans there like Ben Jipcho and Mike Boit."

Commenting a little later in the evening upon that extended display of courage and self confidence, Bayi told me: "John was watching me when I was running in front of him. They didn’t expect I would win that race. John knew that maybe I would die - but I was prepared for that one!"

Bayi said he had already decided upon his race plan following his success in the 1973 All-African Games in Lagos, where he had won the 1500m title with a front-running performance that had defeated a field including Kenya’s double Olympic champion Kip Keino.

"I felt I would do the same as this front runner in New Zealand," he said. "I knew that I would be a front runner because nobody recognised me. And that’s what I did.

“People thought they would get me in the final 200 metres. I was taking it easy, and when John was coming close to me I accelerated in the last 100 metres."

There was no big screen to watch in the stadium on that occasion. Asked if he had looked back at the pursuing field during the race, Bayi readily asserted: "Yes. Several times. In the corner I saw them before the last 200 metres. And again with 50 metres to go I turned quickly and I saw a black shirt and I knew it was John Walker.

"So then I said, ‘Okay, now I have to put all my strength together'.”

Asked when he felt victory was secure, however, he responded: “I think the point was when I hit the last 200 metres. I knew after that nobody would catch me.

"I knew that they were all hitting each other - John Walker, Mike Boit, Rod Dixon and Ben Jipcho. And I was able just to concentrate on myself.

"If someone had come close to me I could have just gone fast with my last kick."

Two years after the epic Commonwealth Games  1500m final, John Walker won Olympic 1500m gold in Montreal ©Getty Images
Two years after the epic Commonwealth Games 1500m final, John Walker won Olympic 1500m gold in Montreal ©Getty Images

Walker took silver inside the old world record, clocking 3:32.52. Jipcho finished third, a shade outside Ryun’s mark in 3:33.16. Dixon was fourth in 3:33.89, which remained his personal best. Graham Crouch set an Australian record of 3:34.22 in fifth place. Foster was seventh in a British record of 3:37.64.

Did Bayi, at any point, question whether his bold attitude was misjudged?

"You know why I didn’t think that?" he responded. "Because I’d trained. I’d trained, because I knew that those guys would wait and they would think they would pick me up. And I knew that if I ran ahead they would just think that over the last 200 metres, 100 metres, they would catch me.

"And I was calculating in my mind. Making some mathematics there. And I said ‘Ok, now’. I think you can see on the clip at 50 metres when I see that Walker is behind me, and then you can see - high knees, arms pumping up, I go to the line…"

Wonderful. Timed. Timeless.