The 2015 season of 800 metre running has been invigorated via the development of a number of new talents, namely: Clayton Murphy, Boris Berian and Amel Tuka.
Clayton Murphy, a 20-year old American beginning the season as a 1:50 man, finishing the season as a World Championship semi-finalist and a personal best of 1:45.59 and a Pan American Gold medal.
Boris Berian, who similarly begun his season as a 1:48 athlete living out of a caravan in a supermarket car park, extraordinarily finishing 2nd to David Rudisha in the New York Diamond League, bringing his personal best down to 1:43.34 in Monaco.
The 3rd candidate for the hypothetical “emerging 800 metre runner of the year” award certainly rests with the immensely talented Amel Tuka, a 24 year old hailing from Zenica, Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Tuka begun the season with a personal best of 1:46.12 – respectable, but by no means world class. The events that have transpired in the build up to the IAAF World Championships held in Beijing this month are nothing short of remarkable.
Tuka described his start in running as one of pure chance, running a 400 metre time trial in a PE class as a 17 year old, Tuka claims he covered the distance in 50 seconds, a feat which stunned his PE teacher, who encouraged Tuka to further investigate the sport.
Tuka, who’s sporting history lies in Karate, a black belt holder, first rose to prominence at the 2013 European Team Championships, where Bosnia compete in the 3rd division.
Tuka won his race in 1:51.11, qualifying him for the U23 European Championships, where he lowered his personal best to 1:46.29 – a Bosnian national record.
Tuka qualified for the 2014 European Championships, finishing a creditable 6th, once again breaking his own Bosnian national record in running 1:46.12.
Bosnia is not a nation commonly associated with middle-distance royalty, the most significant runner of historical note represented by Vinko Pokrajcic, the national 1500 metre, Mile and 3000 metre record holder (3:39.83/3:58.41/8:07.15), having competed in the heats of the 1985 IAAF World Indoor Games held in Paris.
The development of Tuka has been rapid, with the well-spoken athlete now a national record holder over 400 metres (47.19sec), 800 metres and 4x400m (3:10.50sec).
A 2015 of personal bests continued in impressive fashion, with Tuka posting a personal best early in the year in Velenje, Slovenia of 1:44.19, followed by a victory at the IAAF World Challenge: Madrid, in 1:43.84. Tuka’s victory in Madrid was particularly poignant, with the underside of his race bib containing a handwritten message reading “never forget” remembering the victims of the Srebrenica massacre on its 20th anniversary (a horrifying historical event where 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks were killed by the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska).
IAAF World Challenge: Madrid
The biggest stage for Tuka in 2015 prior to the World Championships took place in Monaco, at the annual Diamond League meeting, a race filled to the brim with talent, with the likes of Amman, Amos, Bosse, Souileman and Kszczot present. To say Tuka “stunned” pundits in winning this race would be an immense understatement, Tuka ran near-even splits, loitering at the back of the race, only emerging from a position higher than 6th with 100 metres remaining, convincingly defeating a world class field and running a World Leading time of 1:42.51.
Monaco Diamond League
Whilst many may be quick to view Tuka’s rise to international athletic fame as suspicious or unusual, it is important to note Tuka’s 2013 coaching change, as the young Bosnian moved from his homeland to Verona, Italy, to be coached by the highly respectable Gianni Ghidini.
Ghidini has coached two 1:42 800 metre runners prior to Tuka, Wilfred Bungei (2008 Olympic Gold) and Yusuf Kamel (2009 World Championship Gold over 1500m).
This young Bosnian athlete will race again tonight in the 800 metre World Championship final, backed by a number of betting agencies as the 2nd favourite for the event, Tuka will enter the event as the fastest man in the field, with the likes of Amos and Amman run out in the heats, Tuka has run faster than Rudisha this season, cementing himself in the history books as the 11th fastest 800 metre runner of all time.
A victory this evening, whilst extremely difficult against the experienced likes of Rudisha, is not impossible. Watch for the Bosnian to sit at the rear of the pack through 400 metres prior to launching a devastating kick over the final 200 metres of the race, carrying the hopes of a nation which has never medalled at a World Championship in any event since gaining independence in 1992.