Rudisha’s long road to Olympic glory with Holy Coach from Mallow

David Rudisha
David Rudisha

"There was tremendous pressure. The country, family, Rudisha’s community, even the world of athletics. Would people have been satisfied with a silver and a bronze?

There were all these things going through my head. He was world champion and world record-holder. There are only three things you can achieve at global level and one (was) missing.”

Rudisha’s rise to superstar status under the tutelage of the Mallow, Co. Cork missionary is the focus of 100 Seconds to Beat the World, an epic production filmed over 10 years.

The film tracks Rudisha from his arrival as a shy 16-year-old hopeful at Brother O’Connell’s training camp for juniors in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

It chronicles the enduring relationship between the pair as Rudisha’s talent blossoms. But his spirit is tested by injury, disappointment and terror as violence sweeps Kenya in the aftermath of its 2008 elections.

And it is there for the joyful realisation of both men’s dreams at London 2012, where Rudisha ran the first sub-100 second 800m.

O’Connell’s idea to create a training camp at St Patrick’s School in Iten in 1989 is now viewed as the catalyst that transformed the village into a global athletics hub.

Subtitled Father, Son and the Holy Coach — in reference to Rudisha’s father, who won an Olympic silver medal in 1968 in Mexico — filming begins in 2005 when David travels 400km from his home in the Masai Mara region in Kenya’s south-west with nothing but dreams of emulating his father’s achievement.

Amazingly, Brother O’Connell was entirely unsporty during his Irish childhood, according to his former assistant coach, Brother Paul.

He said: “Colm, I’m sure, never ran a race in his life. I’d say he never even participated in a sports day in his school but when I met him here first he was even then engrossed in athletics,” said the man who worked alongside Br O’Connell coach runners from 1978 to 1989.

There was no tarmac road, no electricity and no telephone when Br O’Connell arrived in Kenya in 1976, but there was pride in the area’s Olympics athletes of that decade.

He said: “I came in the shadow of that. It was a pretty isolated place. Athletics became my medium of expressing my passion in working with young people. Anything I learned in the early stages was from watching the youngsters training.”

In all, Br O’Connell coached more than 20 Olympic medallists at St Patrick’s School, but only ever in their junior years.

But he made the decision to coach at senior level for the first time after Rudisha became junior world champion in Beijing in 2007.

“I was never part of the story. I was now going to place emphasis on a more worldly aspect of a person’s life, which is to make money and a career. In that sense I was moving out to the fringes of my missionary work. I think I felt; let’s go for it.”

The runner is seen telling the cameras in 2007 that he had utter faith in his coach making his Olympic dreams come true.

He said: “It was my dream when I was young to join Brother Colm. Why should I change? I had that belief in him. He is the one going to make me a great athlete.”

Br Colm told how he agonised over his decision to take on Rudisha’s senior coaching when the devastated athlete first missed the Beijing Olympics through injury and then missed out on the final of the 2009 world championships.

“God sometimes puts you to the sword and tests you to see if you stay with it even when things are not going well. You have to have a belief there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

After that 2009 setback, Rudisha adopted his famous front-running strategy which has seen him destroy opposition in the 800m ever since.

Running legend Steve Cram — Commonwealth 800m champion — tells the documentary how athletes all over the world have been wondering at the secret to the Irish teacher’s extraordinary track record with Kenyan runners.

“There is no secret,” Br O’Connell tells the cameras. “The secret is in the head, not in the legs. It’s the determination, the passion, the interest, the commitment, the focus, the dream. There are not secrets. These are true of any person who can rise above the ordinary.”

* 100 Seconds to Beat the World: The David Rudisha Story will be shown on BBC Four on Tuesday, July 22, at 10pm.

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