The Olympic 10,000m and 5,000m champion at London 2012 and twice a winner of the same double at the IAAF World Championships since then, British distance runner Mo Farah is aiming to repeat the feat at Rio 2016. Should he do so, he will maintain his unbeaten record in major global events at both distances since the London Games.
Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, on 23 March 1983, Mohamed “Mo” Farah arrived in England with his family when he was eight and has since gone on to become the most decorated British track and field athlete of all time, having won seven world and Olympic gold medals since 2011.
His 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.
Driven by that desire to improve, Farah took on former US distance runner Alberto Salazar as his coach in 2011, the year in which he won his first 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.”
Two nights to remember
After landing his first 10,000m/5,000m double 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.
Cheered on by a passionate 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.”
Figuring in the leading group for the entire race, Farah kicked for home when the bell sounded, surging into a lead he would not relinquish.
“The atmosphere at the Olympics was incredible; something I’ve never experienced and will never experience again in my entire life,” he said of that memorable night. “Running in front of 85,000 people shouting out your name. Wow! It was just unbelievable.”
Struggling to keep pace with him as he powered his way to the finish line were Ethiopia’s Bekele brothers – Kenenisa, the two-time defending Olympic champion at the distance, and Tariku – 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 Farah.
“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 brother Kenenisa to fourth.
One week later, the 29-year-old darling of British track and field 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, Farah bumped into Usain Bolt at the podium, where the Jamaican sprinting great stepped up to collect the 4x100m relay gold medal, his third gold of the Games. The pair then celebrated the Briton’s win, with Bolt even breaking out a “Mobot”, Farah 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 meant more 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.”
Farah secured another 10,000m/5,000m double at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow.
Speaking the following year, he had this to say about his future plans: “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 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 landed yet another long-distance double, and extended his unbeaten record at the two distances at major global championships, which had begun at London 2012.
As if those Olympic and world titles were not enough, Farah also has a number of European records to his name: the 1,500m (3:28.81 in 2013), the 10,000m (26:46.57 in 2011), the half-marathon (59:32 in 2015) and the 5,000m indoor (13:10.60 in 2011).
He proved his form ahead of Rio 2016 by setting a new British 3,000m record of 7:32.62 at the IAAF meeting in Birmingham on 5 June this year, the previous best having stood for 34 years.
“It’s going to be a lot harder than London 2012,” said Farah, contemplating his prospects in Rio. “I’m older and I think it’s definitely going to be a stronger field, so it’s going to be a real battle.”
Will he be chasing Kenenisa Bekele’s two world records this August? “Have you seen them? You have to be realistic. It's all one year at a time. This year is all about Rio.“Next year is my last track year,” he added. “I will come out at the World Championships in London and then go on to the road. That is my aim. Records are hard.”