Long distance running, a discipline dominated for so many years by African athletes, has not had the highest of profiles in Britain. But all that changed at London 2012 when Mo Farah became the first Briton to win both the 5,000m and 10,000m.
Farah cemented his place as an all-time track great and endeared himself to sports fans across the globe – particularly in his adopted home country and city, where he arrived as a refugee from Somalia at the age of eight.
Landing in London knowing only a handful of English words, Farah has joked about losing cross-country races as a schoolboy because he was unable to read direction signs – but the language barrier was never going to hold back such a gifted, determined star.
After switching his focus from football – an early ambition was to play for Arsenal –he won the junior 5,000m at the European Championships in 2001. But it was only when he moved in with a group of Kenyan runners in 2005 that his rise to greatness began.
He set a British 3000m indoor record in 2009 and broke it weeks later at the Grand Prix in Birmingham, going on to take gold in the event at that year’s European Indoor Championships. And he captured the attention of the wider world in 2010 when he took gold in the 10,000m at the World Championships.
Farah relocated his family in 2011 to Oregon in the USA to train with long-distance guru Alberto Salazar, who broke down his running style – and at that year’s World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, Farah won gold in the 5,000m and silver in the 10,000m.
Though Salazar has helped Farah to a new level of excellence, Africa was also to play a key role in his coming success.
After a disappointing Beijing Games in 2008, where he failed to make the 5,000m final, Farah took stock of his career and began travelling to the continent to train each year.
He began 2012 at a training camp in Iten in the highlands of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, a village known as the Home of Champions as it has produced so many top distance runners.
There, he followed a gruelling regime that saw each day begin with a bowl of Ugali – porridge – and involved huge running sessions on the area’s dusty roads, 8,000ft above sea level.
The hard work was to pay off in spectacular style as Farah took gold in the 5,000m with a thrilling, strategically perfect run, capping a spectacular Saturday for Team GB at the Olympic Stadium and introducing the watching world to his signature pose, the ‘Mobot.’
Seven days later, roared on by a capacity 80,000 crowd, he achieved the unthinkable and took the 10,000m title, becoming one of the few men in Olympic history to do the distance double, with a time of 13:41.66.
After the race, Farah said: ‘Its an unbelievable feeling – the best feeling ever. It’s been a long journey grafting and grafting, but anything is possible.’
Farah has set his sights on moving into marathon running – and given his dedication it seems certain he’ll give Africa’s elite runners a run for their money in that event too.