Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Quality 800/880 runners 1938-2017 (part 3)

Paul Ereng

I talked to Paul Ereng twice at the Queens Hotel, Upper Norwood, Crystal Place and I found him a charming and modest individual when we first met and, no journalists would have believed he would be standing on the podium in Seoul as a gold medallist a few months later, particularly as he only went on to finish third in the Kenyan Olympic 800m Trials.
His style of running in the important competitions reminded me of the fast 1972 Olympic Champion, Dave Wottle but, with even greater success for Paul, when put it to the test in his major Championship races.

“I ran my indoor-race- (World Championship & World Indoor record of 1:44.48 3rd of March 1989) from the back like the Olympics. The other races I have run in the middle, except for some to them when I have taken them on’

In the 1988 Olympics at Seoul :-The First 4 were Paul Ereng (Kenya)1:43.45; 2 Joaquim Cruz (Brazil) 1:43.90; Said Aouita 1:44.06; (Mor), 4 Peter Elliott (GB) 1:44.12 and then came Johnny Gray (USA) 1:44.80, who paced several important record attempts.
Kenyan, Nixon Kiprotich led the first 300 in 36.4!

Paul comes in “It was a very, very hard race. It was the first major title I was fighting for, and everybody else was more experienced. I had only been doing the event for a few months, and there I was lined up with all the best people in the World. I ran the race in the way I wanted to, I thought that if they beat me they will have to run fast, maybe under the World record!

Was it a plan for Nixon Kiprotich to go out so fast?
‘It was not a plan. I thought it was a mistake when he ran hard, I almost shouted at him to stop, because I thought it was too fast, but I feared to do that. I was not sure of what he was doing, but you never know whether someone is going to keep going. I thought then I might run a World record, and maybe lose the race.”

It was on 16th of August 1989 in Zurich that Paul Ereng, ran his fastest time, winning in 1:43.16.
Paul Ereng was born in Nzoia on 22/8/67. He was the first World class athlete from the National District called Turkana.

“I did not take up running till I was 16.” The first time he ran 400 in 1981 were in 60.00 seconds; He did 53 seconds in 1983 and in 1984 run 49.6’ I felt that was a big improvement for me.’ He said, In 1986 he ran 47.00
“I had a popular place where there was no track to train on. I came up with a 45.6 which was quite Okay and nobody believed or expected me to do that’
“My West Virginia coach Fred Hardy told me ‘You can run a good 800. I think you have got the right speed. You just need some endurance to stay with the people, when it comes to kicking you can out kick them easily.”

Diane Modahl

Diane Modahl, nee Edwards (Born 17/6/66), won six British 800 titles and, her record as a Commonwealth Medallist is impressive, for the likeable lady. She won in New Zealand in 1990 (1 Diane Edwards (Eng) 2:00.25 (Games record); 2 Ann Williams (Eng) 2:00.40; 3 Sharon Stewart (Aus) 2:00.87) and in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur she was 3rd, in her second fastest ever time of 1:58.81. In 1986 before that, Diane was 2nd in Edinburgh in 2:01.2. She was a winner in the Europa Cup of 1994 in Brigham in at time of 2:2.81.
She competed in 4 Olympics. Her lifetime best was in Oslo in 1990 when she ran 1:58.65.
Like Ex-international cross-country runner Paul Roden, she was trained for a long time by Gordon Poole. Diane Modahl has been secretary of Sale Harriers Manchester and with her devotion to the club, she has helped it be in the forefront of club athletics for many years.
Unfortunately her World came tumbling down on the 18th of June 1994, when she was banned for 4 years, because of a positive drug test that, robbed her of a chance to retain the Commonwealth 800 title that year. The decision was overturned for definite reasons and on the 25th of March 1996 the IAAF Congress in South Africa accepted the evidence and cleared Modhal of the charges. A catastrophic mix up by the testers brought her some unhappy days for a while. If you consider long before her incorrect test in 1994 she ran 1:58.65 as her best ever time and her second best 1:58.81 in 1998 from that there was no leap of improvement that, might indicate drug taking or blood boosting for that matter so, it stretches one’s credulity to even imagine Diane Modahl would be guilty of offences to aid performance

How did her interest in athletics begin?
“My Father was my inspiration because he always switched the television on to athletics, And we all watched it openly. I can always remember watching Myruts Yifter. ‘Yifter the shifter’ race. and, he brought a lot of pleasure into our household and that was my earliest memory of athletics”
Diane was 19 when she took athletics seriously “I wanted to become a nurse.
And my Mother was a nurse and keen for me to become one as well.’
‘It was at 16 that my coach told me, I could, if I wanted to, become a much better athlete.
‘I did not realise at the time, when I decided to dedicate myself to athletics and drop my studies to become a nurse. To be a nurse would be far more difficult to do, if I was doing athletics as well, so that was why I decided on secretarial work instead’
“I broke 2 minutes for the first time in Oslo, and met my husband Vincente Modhal the very same day I set the English native record.1:59.30.” (Bislet Games 4th of July 1987)

Diane’s training is of interest here
“Endurance training. Short sharp faster training, hills, weights speed and a variety of training methods which my coach has done a great job putting together’
‘I particularly enjoy going to Delamare forest to train a lot, and we like to spend a lot of time in Norway in the winter where Vincente comes from. It is beautiful there is the weather is okay. Over here we go to Southport beach as a change from the roads.”

Billy Konchella

Billy was one of 10 children and born in Kilgoris Kenya, on the 20th of October, 1961.
His talent was realised when, as junior of 17, he was 2nd in the Kenyatta Games 400 in 45.30 (45.21)
Four people were instrumental in helping him, and they were Paul Barnes, a doctor from Central City USA, in 1984 with all sorts of ways, Long Beach City College coach Ron Allis, Edwin Moses and the 800m 1970 Commonwealth Champion Robert Ouko.
Robert Ouko, had tremendous faith in Billy Konchella and was one of the few who thought he could make the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, where he was 4th in 1:44.03.
Billy Konchellas’ major Championship medals were all gained at the World Championships:-
1987 1:43.06, his life time best, 2  Peter Elliott (GB) 1:43.41; 3 Jose Luis Barbosa (Brazil) Billy said:-

“I Knew in Rome it was going to be tough for me to get beat, but I never really say I am going to win., because you never know how much energy the others  have. There is no sure thing unless you are Edwin Moses-then you can be sure about it! I don’t train to beat I train to be the best that I can.’ Billy took over from Barbosea at the 600 mark and was not headed again.  
The day before he came 2nd to Scotsman, Tom McKean, at Crystal Palace. Tom in London, after the World Championships, he told me.

“Right now I am not 100%.
I had asthma and bronchitis which put me out this year. At first the doctors could not tell what was wrong, as I had TB as well. I was almost gone but they said unless I had been very strong and healthy I could have been dead. It has taken seven months to find out what it was; it was in April 1987 I started to train well again.”
World Champ’s 1991 1 Billy Konchella 1:43.99; 2 Jose Luis Barbosa 1:44.24; 3 Mark Everett (USA) 1:44.67
                 1993 1. Paul Ruto (Kenya); 2 Giuseppe D’urso) Italy 1:44.86; 3 Billy Konchella 1:44.89
The latter World Championships, he left it till he had covered  600, to get out of last place, took the field apart but not quite the first 2, which was a shame but these things happen and the next Kenyan to win the World Championships was Wilson Kipketer from 1995, 97 & 99.

How was Billy Konchella’s start in athletics
“I attended Primary school at Kilgoris and later Upper High School Nairobi.
‘At school I tried to challenge everybody. I played soccer, but found I could not handle the ball very well, so I just used to run all the time, not train or compete. It was not till the teacher in the PE class asked me to run after school and helped coach me a little then.”

Vebjorn Rodal

He was born at Berkak, Norway on the 16th of Septeember, 1972

In 1992 he was 2nd in the European athletics Championships in 1:46.53 behind Andrea Benvenuti of Italy, who recorded 1:46.12. In 1995 he was 3rd in the World Championships in 1:45.68 behind the winner Kenyan, Wilson Kipketer, running for Denmark, whose time was 1:45.08. He certainly would have been a threat if he had run against Rodal in the following year’s Olympics at Atlanta but he had not had enough time to compete for Denmark under Olympic rules. That meant Veborn was the favourite for the Olympic 800 in Atlanta and he certainly acquitted himself well by, not only winning in an Olympic record of 1:42.8. He bettered the times of Cruz and Coe in 1984 and Paul Ereng in 1988.
Rodal  only just qualified for the final at Atlanta in 1996 but it was a marvellous race for the first 4 were 1 Vebjorn Rodal (Norway) 1:42.58; 2 Heziel Sepeng (RSA) 1:42.74; 3 Fred Onyancha (Kenya) 1:42.79; 4 Norberto Tellez (Cuba) 1:42.85—All those four were under 1:43, in the same race.. When entering the final curve, Rodal accelerated, and raced up the straight to the finish and, the two behind him, particularly Sepeng looked as though he might get to him but Rodal as strong enough to just hold him off.  
Rodal comes from a little town called Berkak near Trondheim, which is along way north of Oslo and bitterly cold and snow covered for most of what Winter months. Verborn agrees.

“It is cold and there is a lot of snow. In my home town there is a Power Station.
The power station is in the mountains. And there is a tunnel into the power station, so it is possible to run inside that tunnel. In that tunnel it is not warm, but about 10 to 12 degrees, which is OK in the winter.’
His coach Kjell Husby explains about his summer training
“It is very complex. He enjoys the speed training, also the intervals. ‘I think if he wanted to he could get down to 46.0 for 400 but I think you need more muscles, and he already got enough muscles and, he has run the 200 in 21.9 and he has got the National record for 400, 800 and 1000 and when he wants to I think he could beat the National record for 1500.

When Verjborn  was still at school. He did 2:11 in 1985; 2:5.06 in 1986 & 2:06.5 in 1987 which are good times for a schoolboy but not outstanding for what he achieved later, but then he must have been doing other sports as well?
“In winter I was doing cross-country skiing because there is a great tradition for cross country skiing in my home town, but when I was out and 15 years old, I thought it was too cold to do cross country skiing and my skis were too slippery. I then found out it was more fun to run, so that was when I started to run.’

‘He improved from 2:06.5 in 11987 to 1:55.05 in 1988.
‘The breakthrough was because I left my old club and started to train in a new club called Oppdal FIK where Kjell A Husby coaches. Was that what made the difference?’
“Kjell comes in “ I saw him as a small boy of 11 or 12 years old. He was all legs and nothing more. When he joined my club he was improving a lot. At the age of 19, I was sure he could be one of the best in the World. I got him strong round the middle of the body and the hips. We did all round exercises to help him. The race I felt was a noticeable improvement, when he was 20 and, he improved 1:47.08 to 1:45.33 and that was sensational in Norway!
Looking back, many years, the last time I can remember Norway having a medallist in the European (1954) & Olympic 800m (1956) was Aunden Boysen, who gained a bronze in both.

Maria De Lourdes Mutola

Born 27/10/72 at Maputo, Mozambique
In her most important final Championships race, the Olympic 800 in Beijing in 2008, she was fourth in 1:56.51 in the final behind the winner, Dame Kelly Holmes, who did 1:56.36.
Holmes won the 1500 as well, highlighting her amazing talents so, it might be a surprise to some for me to say Mutola was perhaps the ‘Greatest’ women’s 800 racer in the history of athletics.
One of Kelly Holmes, fastest times for the distance appears in the top 50 times in the 2017 International athletics Annual edited by Peter Mathews, as 1:56.21 yet, Maria Mutola, has three entries in the top 50 fastest of all time.
1:55.19, at Zurich on the 17th of August 1994; 1:55.29 at Koln on 24th of August 1997;  1:55.43,when winning the World Championships in Stuttgart on the 17th of August 1993. I should also point out that Maria achieved 21 gold medals at Major Championships
(Those 21 gold medals were from one of the following:-
Olympic Games; World Championships, African Championships; Commonwealth Games and All Africa Championships)
Maria Mutola competed in six Olympic Games.
Maria Mutola will go down in history as Mozambique’s outstanding sporting ambassador, not just for the gold medals she achieved but, in her consuming interest in sport in Mozambique, through her Maria Mutola Foundation.
From a young age she was particularly good at playing soccer and one of her bothers Carlos made the National Basketball team.
The Olympic Solidarity Committee gave Maria Mutola a grant to do sport abroad and sne then said:-

“My goal was to learn English as I did not speak English at the time and I chose to go to the United States. I wanted to find out what America is all about”

She went to Springfield High School Eugene. Oregon but naturally it was not easy for her to begin with. It was such a cultural change.
“It was very difficult and I was unhappy and homesick as I spoke no English and had no friends... I was only 17 so it was tough to begin with.’

She met her coach Margot Jennings, who had been a college long distance runner, and almost immediately, with her guidance, Maria Mutola blossomed out as a future prospect. “In 1988 I ran 2:04.6 but did not improve on that till 1991, but then I met Margot Jennings and, neither of us, at the time would know I would become a world class performer.
‘I had thought, if I break 2 minutes one day I can start to think I could be one of the stars.
I ran in a mixed race, where I was living in Oregon and, a boy who trained with me said that, if I stayed with him in the race I could break 2 minutes. He did around 1:58 and I did 1:59.
At first I thought they might have stopped the clock before I finished. It was a help to learn the pace judgement.’
‘It was after I broke 2 minutes my coach said to me that, if I dedicate myself a little bit more I could become a world champion one day and, I actually believed her!
‘Later that year was another extraordinary day of Maria Mutola. She wanted to go to New York for the New York games. Which would be her first Grand Prix?
‘A lot of organisers in New York did not want me in the 800m race. because they thought I was too young and unknown. And, how were they going to pay someone from High school with all her tickets, they wanted me to pay my own way. Eventually we got some sponsorship, through a friend with Nike West as long, as I would wear their uniform.’
‘I went to New York and won the race in 1:59. I beat a lot of the top Americans Mary Slaney, Joetta Clark, Meredith Rainey, and Celeste Halliday, nobody expected me to win so, that race for me was remarkable.’
In 1992 Maria Mutola went to the Toronto Indoor World Championhips. and won the 800 in 1:57.18 with Svetlana Masterkova, who later became the double Olympic Champion in Atlanta second in 1:59.8. Joetta Clark and Ella Kovacs were the next in.
‘That was a big memory for me because it was the first World Championship win for Mozambique and I won. .I started to believe in myself and that I would win even more races. To know you are one of the top runners in the World is a special feeling.”  

Sydney 2000 Olympics. Maria Mutola became the first person from Mozambique to win an Olympic title. In the Final Helena Fucksova (CZE who finished 5th in the race) led through the bell in 55.4. Kelly Holmes ,who had recently come back from injury took the lead at the 600 point. Maria went past on the outside in the home straight then Steffi Graff, took her with just 30 metres remaining. First 3 1 Maria Mutola (MOZ) 1:56.15; 2 Stephanie Graff (AUT) 1:56.64; 3 Kelly Holmes (GBR) 1:56.80;

Regarding her training and the method she adopted
“I read about Sebastian Coe as he was an excellent runner for his time. He really impressed me a lot and, even my coach talks a lot about him and all his training. She tried to give me similar type of work. To have endurance for 1500 and speed for 800s like Sebastian Coe did.
‘I train a lot over distance but not so much cross-country I used to in High school a long time ago. Now I do long fartlek for 3 miles, and speed work in the summer when we are close to racing on the track.

What did athletics give to Maria Mutola?
“Diplomat stature and to be able to travel all around the world and, represent your country, meet different people, different cultures and learning a lot of geography. A lot of exciting memories.”

Andre Bucher

I particularly wanted to meet Andre Bucher as he was a World Class 800m man coming from a small country like Switzerland, which was unusual in the days athletes from places like Kenya were dominating the event plus of course the Russian Yuriy Barzarkovskiy. Yet in 2001 Andre Bucher became a  World Championships winner outdoors.
Andre Busher was born in Neudorf, Lucerne, Switzeralnd on 19th of October 1976.
He joined his running club lake Luzern in Switzerland, when was ten years old and, ran in a local race. It was at the age of fifteen that he started to take athletics seriously. He qualified for the World Junior Cross-Country Championships in Budapest in 1994.

“I remember that as I came in the 90’s out of 186 and was disappointed. I ran very badly. I realise that to be good at long distance I needed to be a good 1500 runner. I changed my training under my coach Andy Vojtly, whom I have been with for nineteen years now. I ran 3:48 for 1500 and qualified for the World Juniors. He came 2nd inthose in in Lisbon in 1994
doing a time of 3:40.6 but a very significant event happened the year before, when I ran 1:56.40 for the first ever 800.. He carriies on by saying “ It was a training race with the club and I had done no work for the middle distance at the time, as I hoped to be a long distance runner.’

He went on to obtain a degree at 21, as a primary school teacher, then went to Australia where he lived for a while, came back to study history at Berne University.
“The problem  with our university system was, that it is not made for being a serious athletee as you have to attend lectures. I tried to do both. I wanted to have a social life as well as being an athlete, not to do 24 hours of running and studying.
I did want to give 100%  effort to my running so, I decided to do athletics full time. I had my degree and could do a job or study later on, when I ended my athletics career in my 30’s. The Olympics were coming up and I wanted to do them’

In 1996 in Atlanta Bucher was fourth in the sem-final of the 800m in 1:46.41. He improed his 800m time to 1:453 in 1997.
In 1998 he ran 1:44.96 and 1:42.92 in 1999. It was in 2000 he ran his fastest 400 (46.32) in Lugano on the 4th of July. In Sydney at the Olympics he as fifth in the final won by Nils Schumann ofGgermay in 1:45.08. Bucher did 1:45.40.

‘His Purple Patch’
In 2001 “I was in great shape I could basically do whatever I wanted tacticvally in my races and would nearly always in the race’
In the world Championships in Edmonton Canada the result for the first three was 1 Andre Bucher (Switzerland) 1:43.70. 2nd William Bungei (Kenayu) 1:44.55 and 3 Pavel Czapiewski (Poland) 1:44.63 (It was that year in Zurich he ran his fastest ever 800 in 1:42.55 on the 17th of August). Back to talking about his World Championship win
“It was a lucky race for me actually in 2001. Bungei was in the field. He had only one chance and that was by going out fast and running a fast race. I prefer that. I took up t he lead with 300 to go and finished bywinning in 1:43.17 which was quite good for a final of a World Championship and Bungei got the silver medal so, we both got lucky at the end and won medals, which was nice and that really completed the season for me’  
Bucher had a stress fracture in the early part of 2002 but managed to come back to gain a silver medal in the European (1 Wlson Kipketer (Denmark) 1:47.25; 2 Andre Bucher 1:47.43 and 3 Nils Schumann 1:47.60)  and he ran a season’s best in Brusssels of 1:43.93 and won the Grand Prix 800 at Crystal Place in 1:43.93.
He talked about the qualities of his coach

“He does not tell the athlete what he has to do. He is more a mentor a guide to me than really standing there and saying you have to run faster. I think I am a pretty independant Athlete. At this stage I can do my own training programme. He still overlooks it and we can discuss it “

David Rudisha

This being my final quality 800m interview, 1938-2017 inclusive.
Before that I would like to explain that firstly, all the quotes are taken from my interviews over the years since the 1950’s.
I had great admiration for Mal Whitfield, that I saw running for the Unites States at the White City Stadium because, he managed to beat one of the best long striding World class Jamaicans in the Olympics and,  won two 800m Olympic Gold medals, in 1948 & 1952. Another one to win, twice was our subject David Lukuta Rudisha, who won in 2012 & 2016 and became a ‘Great Star from Kenya’ when breaking the World record in the Olympic Final in London 2012 1. David Rudisha (Kenya) 1:40.91; 2 Nigel Amos (Botswana) 1:41,73; 3 Timothy Kitum (Kenya) 1:42.53.
Rio De Janeiro 2016 1 David Rudisha (Kenya) 1:42.15; 2 Taoufik Makhloufi (Algeria)1:42.61; 3 Clayton Murphy (USA) 1:42.93.
David Lekuta Rudisha was born in Kilgoris, Kenya on the 17th of December 1988.
When I spoke to him and had the interview published in the BMC Autumn edition of 2011 he had been the IAAF athlete of 2010.
I talked to him the day after he won the Grand Prix 800 at Crystal Palace in a British All Comers record of 1:42.91.
When did David Rudisha have that initial feeling of wanting to run?

“When I was still a kid in school at St Francis Secondary school in Iten. ‘
‘My Father was a good runner (Daniel Rudisha who ran for Kenya in the 4x400 in the Mexico Olympics of 1968. His team Kenya came 2nd in 2:59.6 behind the Americans and he ran the anchor leg in 44.7)

Was the fact his Father was a good runner inspire him?
“I just liked running I started out without any big dreams that I would become a World beater.’
‘It was when I became serious athletics it was almost a business. If I ran well I could achieve well. That was when I started to train in 2003-2004
‘It was in 2005 I found and met my coach Colm O’Connell an Irish Priest’

When was his first breakthrough?
‘My first achievement was winning the World Junior 800 in Beijing, China in 2006. That was my big step to start my career‘(1:47.40 in August of that year. The next year he ran 1:44.15) talking about his coach: ‘He has been a very good coach since I met him and he has been coaching me very nicely. Since then we have been working together very well and I have been improving my times. ‘
‘My coach is very specific. He knows how to coach the youth and coaches mostly youths. He knows how to coach them gradually, the type of training graduating to the senior level. The training as a senior is almost similar. That is the duration and time and how they are improving. You can just improve with quality and quantity as time goes on.’

Did David read about people like Paul Ereng and Kip Keino?
‘In 2003-2004 we started getting the passion for the sport; I read the magazines and saw the top athlete of the time and that inspired me. I read about Billy Konchellah who came from the same place I came from, the Masai. It was really good for me to know that I could make it, knowing I came from the Masai too ’

David Rudisha set a couple of World records in 2010 over the 800. 1:41.09 on the 22nd of August in Berlin and 1:41.01 on the 29th of August in Rieti so, which one stood out and, was it a surprise, so early in his career, to run so fast at age 21. Which record stood out for him?
‘Really people expected me to do that with my structure and my running stride. People were telling me ‘One time you will break the World record. That was even when I was in school!
‘I was really determined to break the World record. Breaking the World record was something that was seen by many and, they were excepting me to do it.
‘The special one was the first one in Berlin. I was just trying but I was not expecting to break the World record, and after that I was expecting to run even faster in Rieti. The Berlin world record was a little bit tougher to break.’

Did David Rudisha feel he would run for a long time?
‘I enjoy running and running is my passion.
That is my career. I want to run for many years. To be consistent in my running is my focus, to be running well for a couple of years.’
‘It is always important to focus on your event. That is what I am doing at 800 and focusing on that only. I don’t want to run 1500. I do 400’s for specific training (He ran 45.50 in 2010). I am focusing on the 800.

Over your distance there is a lot of competition in the World like Abubaker Kaki and Boaz Lalang which must help push him forward
‘Good competition there. Also very determined athletes in the 800 and it makes for good stiff competition that we give each other.”

Alastair Aitken

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