NEW YORK (Reuters) - David Rudisha was hailed as a super-runner after his world-record breaking victory in the 800 meters at last year’s London Olympics.
The Kenyan’s name was added to track and field’s A-list alongside Usain Bolt and Mo Farah. Suddenly, everyone wanted a piece of Rudisha.
Politicians wanted to be photographed with him, talk show hosts wanted to interview him and promoters were dreaming up ways to get him and Bolt to race each other.
For a fleeting moment, the notoriously shy and humble Rudisha lapped up the attention. Then, he disappeared from the limelight, retreating to his homeland.
Rudisha was feted as a hero there too. Cattle were slaughtered in his honor, a tradition for his Maasai tribe.
He became an instant celebrity to the next generation of Kenyan middle-distance runners, in the same way that he had been inspired by Wilson Kipketer.
Then it was back to work. The temptation to cash in on his fame was rejected. The lure of money and offers to fly around the world were turned down for a more noble goal.
“I just want to run,” Rudisha told reporters on Friday on the eve of the Adidas Grand Prix, the New York leg of track and field’s Diamond League series. “I want to run the perfect race.”
Many thought he ran the perfect race in London, when he won the 800 in one minute 40.91 seconds, becoming the first man to get under 1:41.00.
But no sooner had he crossed the line, than the speculation began on how much faster he could go. The once-unimaginable 1:40.00 became the new barrier.
It is a topic that routinely comes up in Rudisha’s rare public appearances. The 24-year-old remains reluctant to talk about his chances, sticking to the sportsman’s mantra that nothing is impossible.
“I don’t want to say what is possible,” he said. “I think maybe, for myself, 1:40.5 is possible but I don’t know about 1:40.00 because you have to average 49 (seconds per lap).
“The most important thing is to stay focused and keep training. With time, anything is possible.”
While Rudisha is an overwhelming favorite to win Saturday’s 800m race in Manhattan, his major goal this season is to defend his world title in Moscow in August.
His long-term goal is to win another Olympic gold medal at Rio in 2016, which remains the main reason he chose to escape the spotlight and remain in Kenya, where he trains under the guidance of legendary Irish coach, Brother Colm O’Connell.
“We’ve had a lot of requests, from all over the world, but we’ve said no to most things,” Rudisha’s manager James Templeton told Reuters.
“We try to limit that sort of thing, and minimalise all those distractions in your life and disruptions to training.”
Rudisha is just the latest in a long line of athletes who have turned down the chance of making a quick buck to focus on their sporting careers.
He already has some marquee sponsors including Adidas and Templeton said the 6ft 3in (1.90m) Kenyan would benefit in the long run.
“Athletes are making more and more money, that sort of thing takes care of itself,” Templeton said. “Brother Colm and I think he will be a superstar in 2016, and there will be opportunities before then.
“But we don’t think too much about the commercial side. We don’t want too many distractions.”
Editing by Frank Pingue