Snoozing in Nairobi airport’s departure lounge in a navy blue suit, David Rudisha looks like just another businessman having a quick power nap.
His fellow passengers seem pretty relaxed about being in the presence of Kenyan running royalty. My feelings are a little different.
Appropriately for a man who has hardly been seen or heard from in the past three years, the two-time Olympic 800m champion Rudisha has been difficult to track down.
But now here we are, finally face to face with the man who, for some,outshone Usain Boltat London 2012. It’s a fuller face than you might remember.
By his own admission, the 31-year-old has changed a lot since that incredible world record of one minute 40.91 seconds he set in winning Olympic gold, before defending his crown four years later in Rio.
The initial problem was injury. A long-term issue with the tendon that attaches to the sitting bone means he has not run competitively since 4 July 2017.
But Rudisha has had to cope with a lot more than that.
Marital problems, separating from his wife, plus the death of his father Daniel – himself an Olympic medallist – last year left Rudisha looking for “a bit of destruction to distract”.
To release the pressure valve, he was “partying too much”. When the injuries finally subsided and he was able to return to running in November, he did so two stone overweight.
And then there is the reason why Rudisha feels he is living a “second chance” at life. He could easily have died last summer.
Five hours into a six-hour drive to his family home in Kilgoris, south-west Kenya, Rudisha rounded a corner late at night to be confronted by a bus on his side of the road. They collided head-on.
His car was a write-off. Recalling the memory, he recoils in his seat.
“Actually I don’t even have words to explain the accident,” he says. “It was really horrific and scary. It was not easy and everybody, every time, kept asking me: ‘How did you even survive? How did you get out of that car?’
“To come out without a single scratch was just like a miracle. It is not something that happens every day, it was so special and I feel like God still loves me.”
All of this explains why reducing weight, rather than lap times, is still top of the to-do list. However, a big goal is back on the table: the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Rudisha is one of four men to winconsecutive 800m Olympic titles.Nobody has won three – at all, let alone in a row.
“I still feel like I still have something in me. I have not exhausted everything,” he says.
“There is something left in the tank and that is what I want to exhaust before I think of doing other things.
“If you saw me one month ago I was a little bit heavier, but now I am losing the weight and the response is pretty good. The routine is back. When you miss out on training and competition for two years it is never easy…”
Rudisha trails off. The question of what could happen if the old magic returns is left hanging.
It’s a tantalising thought. This is the man who after all, according to chairman Lord Coe, delivered the best performance of the entire London 2012 Olympics.
“Bolt was good, Rudisha was magnificent,” Coe said. “That is quite a big call but it was the most extraordinary piece of running I have probably ever seen.
“He had the balls to go in there and think: ‘I am so much better than anyone else that I could [run a world record].’ In Olympic finals you are not supposed to gamble with the till, but he did.”
Rudisha circa 2020 is more circumspect.
The impact of three years of back-to-back injuries undoubtedly informs his current mantra, for which he dips into Swahili: “Pole, pole (slowly, slowly).
“I have had so many setbacks before so I don’t want to rush into anything.
“We are human beings, not machines. You cannot have a spare part of your leg or foot or whatever, but we have also to listen sometimes to our body.
“Don’t push, just try to be disciplined, doing the right thing at the right time. If the body responds and says yes…”
In an interview with Spikes magazinein October, Rudisha was open about turning to partying as a way to release the pressure he felt from his on and off-track issues.
“With everything else going on in my life, the pressure sometimes got to me,” he said.
Culled from BBC Sports