Team GB’s long-distance great
A world 10,000m and 5,000m champion in both 2013 and 2015, Great Britain’s Mo Farah has now completed an Olympic ‘double’ on two occasions. In taking gold in both events at London 2012 and Rio 2016, he became only the second athlete after Finnish legend Lasse Viren to achieve the feat. “I sometimes look back on my career and I remember that it was when I started to train with the Kenyans that I began to think I could be the best,” said Mohamed “Mo” Farah. “Watching them, following them and being with them just got me thinking: ‘What’s to stop me being the strongest?’”
Born on 23 March 1983 in Mogadishu, Somalia, Farah arrived in England with his family at the age of eight. Little did he know it at the time, but he would go on to become Great Britain’s most decorated track and field athlete of all time, winning nine world and Olympic gold medals in an astonishing unbeaten run in major global championships between 2011 and 2016. Farah’s Olympic career began in inauspicious circumstances at Beijing 2008, where he failed to progress beyond the semi-finals of the 5,000m. “That motivated me more and I wanted to do better,” he recalled. Fired by that desire to up his game, Farah hired former US distance runner Alberto Salazar as his coach in 2011, the year in which he won his maiden world 5,000m title in Daegu (KOR). Discussing Salazar’s contribution to his success, he said: “He’s got me to that level. He’s tweaked a little bit and that’s the difference between winning and coming sixth.”
After landing the first 10,000m/5,000m double of his career at the 2010 European Championships in Barcelona, Farah went on to retain the 5,000m continental title in Helsinki two years later, just two months before London 2012. Urged on by a vociferous home crowd, Farah was among the favourites when he walked out for the Olympic 10,000m final in the British capital. Recalling the moments before the race, he said: “There was a lot of pressure, but you try to forget about that, deal with it, and be yourself and think about how hard you worked.” Tucked into the leading group for the entire race, Farah kicked for home when the bell sounded, surging into a lead he would not relinquish. Recalling that memorable night, he said: “The atmosphere at the Olympics was incredible; something I’ve never experienced and will never experience again in my entire life. Running in front of 85,000 people shouting out your name. Wow! It was just unbelievable.”
Struggling to keep pace with the British runner as he powered to the finish line were Ethiopia’s Bekele brothers – Tariku and Kenenisa, the two-time defending Olympic champion at the distance – the USA’s Galen Rupp and Kenya’s Bedan Muchiri. “I do remember it clearly, and I remember the guys were all there, lining up to try to pass me, but I had to dig in hard and the crowd gave me a massive boost. It just gave me that bit more,” recalled the darling of British track and field. “Crossing the line first was the best thing ever. It’s definitely something that will not leave… the memories. As an athlete, it’s something you train so hard for. To have the Olympics right on your doorstep and then to do that was just incredible.” Farah crossed the line in 27:30.42, with Rupp producing a late burst to take silver, relegating Tariku Bekele to third and sibling Kenenisa to fourth.
One week later, Farah ran 13:25.23 to win 5,000m gold and become only the seventh runner in history to complete the Olympic double, after Hannes Kolehmainen in 1912, Emil Zatopek in 1952, Vladimir Kuts in 1956, Lasse Viren in 1972 and 1976, Miruts Yifter in 1980 and Kenenisa Bekele in 2008. “I’ve watched it many times and I can’t believe how I won it. Looking back, it’s just like: ‘Wow! I did it’,” said Farah, reflecting on his stunning achievement. “It does feel like you’re watching someone else. You see the crowd and the stadium’s packed, and I’m just here watching and thinking: ‘Really? Did that really happen?’ You ask yourself. But of course it happened.”
After collecting his second gold of the Games, Farah celebrated his win with Usain Bolt, with the Jamaican sprinting great breaking out a “Mobot”, Farah’s signature celebration pose, in which he arches his arms towards his head to form an “M”. Asked to choose which of his two London 2012 wins was more special to him, Farah said: “If I had to pick one, it would have to be the 5K, the reason being that to do the 10K and then to come back and win the 5K was amazing.”
Staying on top
Farah secured another 10,000m/5,000m double at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, after which he discussed his plans for the rest of his career: “I’m not sure what the future holds for me as an athlete. I just want to stay injury free, stay focused, keep my feet on the ground, and keep working hard. Of course I want to defend my [Olympic] title, but we’ll talk to the coach and talk to the rest of my team and come up with a plan. 2016 will definitely be the goal.”
Those plans also involved the 2015 Worlds in Beijing, where he secured yet another long-distance double. Further proof of his invincibility came in the lead-up to Rio 2016, when he set a new British 3,000m record of 7:32.62 at an IAAF meeting in Birmingham in June that year, the previous best having stood for 34 years. And when the Rio Games finally came round, the indefatigable Farah continued on his merry way, maintaining his unbeaten run at major global championships by retaining his Olympic 10,000m title.
Despite taking an early tumble in the race, he produced one of his trademark searing finishes to win gold in a time of 27.05:17, topping the podium from Kenya’s Paul Tanui and Tamirat Tola of Ethiopia. “It’s absolutely crazy. It’s amazing to win medals for your country, but that’s the reason why I make sacrifices and why I train,” said Farah after collecting his third Olympic gold. “I’m proud of making history and making my country proud. I need to rest before the 5,000m. The other guys really pushed me hard tonight. I’m a guy who likes to win medals rather than run fast. One day, maybe I’ll go out and get a world record, maybe even in the marathon. But one of the things that keeps me motivated is winning medals and titles.”
One week later, Farah successfully defended his 5,000m crown to become only the second man to win two Olympic distance doubles, after Finland’s Lasse Viren, who achieved the feat at Munich 1972 and Montreal 1976. Breaking away from the field at the start of the final lap, which he ran in 52.23, the British runner crossed the line first from the USA’s Paul Chelimo (13:03.90) and Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet (13:04.35).
“Oh my God I can’t believe it,” said Farah. “It’s every athlete’s dream but I can’t believe it. When Bekele won all those medals I said I just want one. If you have dreams they can come true and I always wanted to achieve these for my kids, because for so much of the year you don’t see them and thus you want to show them something or rather the reason for the absences. I got into the lead and I wasn’t going to let anyone get past me. I hate losing. I’ve been like that since I was a kid. It’s just the way I am.” Despite announcing that he intends to retire from the track after the 2017 Worlds in London, Farah may still have one more Olympic gold medal in him, with the marathon at Tokyo 2020 now contemplating.