Joe Fournier & Mo Farah: 'While I'm hungover, he sends a picture of himself doing hill sprints'

The businessman and the athlete grew up together in Teddington

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The Independent Online

Joe Fournier, 32

A Monaco-born British businessman, Fournier (left in picture) owns a global string of high-end nightclubs and restaurants, including London's Whisky Mist. A former England basketball player, he has also worked on blockbuster movies such as 'Casino Royale' and 'Quantum of Solace' as an on-set personal trainer. He divides his time between London and Miami

At secondary school, we had this road run around the school property over three laps: anything under 15 minutes was good; less than 12 minutes was amazing. Mo, who'd just joined the school, did it in six minutes and 50 seconds, breaking a record that had stood for 100 years, all at the age of 13. Everyone was like, who is this kid? I was like, he's cool!

Where we grew up in Teddington was a rough neighbourhood. But we didn't smoke or drink; we were always around the sports hall instead. He was an England schoolboys athlete and I was an England basketball captain, though we were both on the same path, with sponsorship from Nike. He was a nice kid, as he was so humble: at county 1,500m events he'd lap the guys twice, but when he'd win, he'd thank God afterwards – his religious beliefs still keep him grounded.

When I left England to play professionally, he stayed, and joined Team GB, but we stayed in touch and after I retired [because of a leg injury] we hung out again in London; we'd go out for meals and play video games.

He's someone who inspires by positivity in life. When he was younger, people always said, "He's never going to beat the Kenyans – he's just another good British athlete." But I knew he was a phenomenon, and when he won the Olympics double, no one was saying that any more. He made the whole town proud.

I could bet my life and all that I have in the bank that he'd never even dream of doping. I can tell he's not on anything – he's just a freak of nature! Look at Mo when he kicks down, he looks like a sprinter, while a lot of the other long-distance runners flail around with their arms. He's too honest to himself and too good – and he was at a world-class level even before he got Alberto Salazar as his coach.

Since I bought my new house in Miami, we are on closer time zones [Farah lives in Oregon on the west coast of America], so we speak every week, and it's reignited our friendship.

While he's extremely humble, I'm more out there: he'll say, "I'm just lucky," but I wouldn't say that about my own success – I'm like, no, I worked bloody hard and I've achieved a lot.

For him, it's still all about family and athletics, while I have diversified a bit more. He teases me about my [partying] shots on Instagram. The guy is so driven that sometimes while I'm hungover in bed after a 12-hour bender, he posts me a picture of himself doing hill sprints, and it makes me feel crap about myself!

 

Mo Farah, 32

A Somali-born British athlete, Farah is the current Olympic, World and European champion over 5,000m and 10,000m. He also holds the English London Marathon record of two hours, eight minutes following his marathon debut in 2014. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and two daughters

We grew up in a tough neighbourhood and we'd see things happen. But being athletes changed things for us. At school, he was the guy who used to do all the events: he could do sprints and the long jump, which he was pretty good at, while I'd just do long-distance. He was a big guy, funny and outgoing; he'd talk to anyone, really, and we became friends. I would run everywhere, and after school, while he was waiting to catch the bus, he'd see me running back home and he'd shout, "Oh, man, what you doing running all that way?"

When he started playing basketball I didn't know how good he was until I saw him play: he had great skills and he got picked for England. We both ended up getting a sponsorship early on, and we had a photoshoot together: him with a basketball and me running.

He's not exactly a hustler, though he was always the smart guy, who found ways to get things done. When we were leaving school, he already had this yellow two-seater MG.

Afterwards we both went on to train at St Mary's: athletics and basketball. Once he joined in for one of the training sessions for a lap, in his jeans. He tried to keep up, but he couldn't. When we weren't training we'd go out, or we played a lot of Fifa: we'd argue about who would play as Arsenal.

Basketball and athletics are two very different things, but I know how hard it must have been when he got injured and had to retire. When he didn't make it in basketball, he made it everywhere else. I'm proud of him.

His worst habit is drinking! He's got clubs in London and if I'm in the UK, he invites me, and I'm like, "Mate, I'm married!" I'm done with that stuff: I don't go clubbing; if I go out, it's to enjoy an evening with the missus! We lead very different lives: now when I text him that I've done a 20-mile run on a Sunday morning, he'll say, "Man, how do you do it?"

I saw him in Birmingham recently [for the Grand Prix in June, which Farah withdrew from, citing stress over doping allegations concerning his coach Alberto Salazar]. We had a chat, remembering stories and the banter back in the day. And with all this stuff that's been going on with me, Joe said, "I'm here if you need anything, man – just keep doing what you're doing, it's the right thing."

Joe is a friend I grew up with, and he'll always be the same old Joe to me. We both know where we've come from. And he doesn't see me any different from when I was younger. But if I met someone else now, I'd have to ask the question: do they like me as who I am, or because of what I've achieved?

For more on Fournier's latest club chain: bonbonniereclub.com

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