Following on the heels of John's post about the extraction and circulation of affect through, among other things, the various sentimental pre-race stories that detail the lives of athletes (and the more troubled the life the better, as in the case of Lolo Jones), I was struck by last night's story of 800 meter great David Rudisha that emphasized his Maasai roots and his Irish expat coach. There's a lot to be said about how this story was presented. A large part of me is troubled by the appeal to base stereotypes of "primitive" African tribal cultures - a sort of National Geographic appeal to the strange and exotic. At the same time, Rudisha himself clearly identifies strongly with his Maasai roots and it carries tremendous affect for him. I suspect Rudisha feels his Maasai identity much more strongly than his Kenyan citizenship. Rudisha is also an exception among Kenyan runners. Rudisha's father, Daniel, was the first Maasai to get an Olympic medal in the 1968 4 x 400 relay, but David is the first Maasai to get gold. Kenyan running is dominated by the Kalenjin tribe (see here). Rudisha's tribesmen had already honored him with the status of Maasai warrior for his world record and will likely shower him with even more honors for being olympic champion (and again in world record time).
Regardless of what one makes of the coverage of Rudisha and his Maasai roots, it is hard not to be in of awe of his race in the 800 meter final. As a former 800 meter runner myself, it is almost inconceivable to imagine running a sub 50 second first lap, only to follow it up with a 51 second finishing lap. But in addition to Rudisha you had two teenagers right on his heels. 18 year old Nijel Amos equalled Sebastian Coe's previously longstanding world record time of 1:41.73, and 17 year old Timothy Kitum was right behind him and also broke 1:43. Even American Nick Symmonds came on strong at the end (as he always does) to come in fifth and with a personal best of 1:42.95. This is the only time five runners in the same race have broken 1:43.
Now that the Olympics are nearly over, I would place the men's 800 meter final at the top of the list of the greatest athletic achievement of these games. Are there any other nominations for equally outstanding achievements (e.g., Bolt's double double)?