It remains a riddle on who will ascend to the throne and succeed ‘King’ David Rudisha in 800m when the 19th World Athletics Championships start in Budapest, Hungary, on Saturday next week.
That’s exactly what defending champion and US-based Emmanuel Korir longs to achieve in the two-lap race.
Korir, who is also the reigning Olympic champion, will marshal forces with season leader Emmanuel Wanyonyi (1:43.27), Alex Ng’eno (1:44.21) and Olympic bronze medallist Ferguson Rotich (1:44.71) against stiff challenges.
They include Canada’s world bronze medallist Marco Arop (1:43.30), America’s 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Clayton Murphy (1:44.75) and Algeria’s Slimane Moula (1:43.38).
With Olympic and world titles safely tucked under his belt, Korir has a leg up in the battle to match Rudisha’s shows in the two-lap race.
Interestingly, Rudisha and Korir studied at Kimuron Secondary School in Elgeyo Marakwet.
Korir, a graduate from University of Texas at El Paso in USA, said: “I have no pressure at all to defend my title. This is my fourth World Championships appearance. I am okay and I know what to do at these competitions. I have had a few challenges here and there but I now feel good.
“I only urge our fans to cheer us on. That’s the motivation for us to fight for medals. I am proud to have studied in the same school with David Rudisha.”
Korir also has a lofty dream. “I am aiming for the world record in future to emulate Rudisha. I know it needs a lot of sacrifice but I will give it my best.”
He wants to become the fourth man to win two gold medals at the World Championships.
His journey to stardom has not all been rosy. His unbridled love for athletics radiated in 2011 when he picked up 100m race while in secondary school.
It was only until he met Bro Colm O’ Connell, a lay missionary and coach at St Patrick’s High School Iten that Korir made an about-turn.
O’Connell, who was then training a group that included Rudisha, convinced Korir to switch to the 400m.
“That was when I met Rudisha and joined them for training during school holidays. The 400m was really long for me, I was mostly last or second last, but I never gave up,” he said.
“One day Rudisha asked me if I had tried 800m since, insisting that I could make a good 800m athlete. I gave it a shot.”
But the shift to 800m did not work out easily.
Bro Colm then introduced him to Paul Ereng, Kenya’s first 800m Olympic champion at the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988.
He posted an impressive 1:46.94 at the national championships in 2016, which convinced Ereng and University of Texas at El Paso to earn him a scholarship.
It was here the idea of track scholarship at the University of Texas in El Paso, where Ereng heads the track and field team, was mooted.
When Korir picked up athletics, he said it was a hard task. “I remember in training sometimes I had to do 300s, 500s and 600s, and in the end, I only did one 500m. It was tough. But I never gave up.”
“It’s Ereng who made me go to the USA. I am happy to have studied and trained well. I hope such efforts will yield better results in future,” he said.
But Korir did not look outside his Sergoit village in Elgeyo Marakwet for inspiration.
His ancestral home is just a stone’s throw distance from the home siblings of immediate former world 3,000m steeplechase champion Saif Saaeed Shaheen (Qatar) and the 1999 world champion Christopher ‘Jogoo’ Kosgei.
Korir described Kenya’s 800m squad to Budapest as “the best ever squad”
“I do feel this is the best team. Apart from (Emmanuel) Wanyonyi, the three of us were in Doha in 2019. I am sure if we fight I think we will come home with something good,” he said.
Since 2008 Kenya has dominated the 800m race in Olympic Games, with David Rudisha setting the world record of 1:40:91 at the London Olympic Games in 2012.
The men’s 800m showdown in Budapest will feature 63 athletes from 35 countries.