David Rudisha during the London 2012 Olympic Games
In sharp contrast to the summer of 2012 when David Rudisha arrived in London unbeaten that year over two laps of the track and promptly blew everybody away with his world record run of 1:40.91, this year has been a bit more erratic.
Nevertheless, courtesy of his world-leading 1:43.35 in the Hungarian town of Szekesfehervar three weeks ago, all seems to be well with Kenya’s defending Olympic champion and world champion, and he will start as the favourite in a bid to become the first man since Peter Snell in 1964 to retain his Olympic 800m title.
“You always feel the pressure being the champion, especially going to a race knowing all the competitors are out to get your medal,” he told local reporters in Kenya just before his departure for Rio. "But I am also going there ready to do my best to defend my title and pick up that gold."
Reflecting on his Hungarian outing, he added: “The performance impressed me a lot. In fact, it gave me the confidence that I am heading in the right direction towards defending my title in Rio.”
His principal rivals will include his two compatriots, the 2013 world U18 and 2014 world U20 champion Alfred Kipketer and Ferguson Rotich, who were first and second respectively at the Kenyan Olympic Trials in June, when Rudisha finished third.
“Yes, I did not win at the national trials but remember I lost to Rotich at the trials for Beijing last year and then went ahead to win gold. So, there are no worries,” added Rudisha calmly.
Kipketer on an upward curve
Nevertheless, Kipketer is still only 19 and the coming man in this event. He also won recently at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco.
Rotich has always been able to run fast and can boast of a personal best of 1:42.84 from 2014 but looks to have acquired some more tactical racing sense this year and won at the IAAF Diamond League meetings in Shanghai and Stockholm.
A clean sweep of the medals by one nation in the men’s 800m has occurred before, by the USA in 1904 and 1912, but not in the modern era of synthetic tracks and electronic timing.
Among the favourites to break up the Kenyan party is Botswana’s Nijel Amos, who chased Rudisha home in London and got the silver medal.
He has opted for a relatively low-key campaign in 2016 and his performances at IAAF Diamond League meetings have been somewhat lacklustre but he did take the African title in Durban back in June.
With Bosnia and Herzegovina's world bronze medallist Amel Tuka not quite in the same form that saw him emerge as the fastest man of 2015, the European challenge looks to be led by the Polish pair of world silver medallist Adam Kszczot and Marcin Lewandowski.
Kszczot and Lewandowski went one-two at the recent European Championships when Pierre-Ambroise Bosse ran a disastrous race in the final but the Frenchman has made the final at the past two World Championships and there is no denying he can run fast – he holds the French record with 1:42.53 – when everything falls into place, so also can't be ruled out of medal consideration.
Among the other men to watch out for are Algeria’s Olympic 1500m champion Taoufik Makhloufi, who will possibly double, Ethiopia’s 2013 world champion Mohammed Aman, USA’s Brian Berian and Canada’s Brandon McBride, the latter making a breakthrough and clocking a personal best of 1:43.95 when finishing second behind Bosse at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London last month.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF