Athletics: Farah so good for adopted land

These are bleak times for Britain but Somali-born Mo is quickly proving his worth for the long run
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The Independent Online

There was a full, expectant house at the Palace on Friday night but there was no coronation - not a British one, at any rate. The Swedes were in ominously regal form at Crystal Palace in the Norwich Union London Grand Prix, Kajsa Bergkvist and Stefan Holm soaring to world-leading peaks for 2006 in the two high jump competitions and Christian Olsson winning the triple jump with consummate ease. It promises to be a sign of things to come in Gothenburg, where the Midas-touched Carolina Kluft will also be going for home gold when the European Championships open there a week tomorrow.

Depressingly, from a parochial point of view, there were no home winners in the international events in south London on Friday night. It got worse yesterday with the news that Christian Malcolm would be too hamstrung to contest the 200m in Sweden, unlike Dwain Chambers, who has been passed fit and confirmed in the team for the 100m and the 4x100m relay.

Still, among the best of the also-rans at the Palace there were flickers of inspiration to keep the home fires burning: Becky Lyne maintaining her world-class form with second place in the women's 800m and, perhaps most heartening of all, Mo Farah showing all the assurance of another British athlete in the throes of breaking through to élite international level this summer.

Farah swept into the lead at the bell in the men's 1500m and was still in front when entering the home straight, doggedly chasing a victory. He was overtaken before he got to the line by Sergio Gallardo of Spain and Rui Silva of Portugal, but as he pointed out in the warm-down area: "These guys are 1500m specialists. I'm just doing this for speed-work for the 5,000m at the Europeans."

Pretty impressive speed-work it was too. Finishing third in 3min 39.02sec, just 0.40sec outside his personal best for the distance, Farah took the scalps of Britain's three leading 1500m men of recent times: Mike East, Nick McCormick and Andy Baddeley. He also beat Alistair Cragg of Ireland, the one man who stands above him in the European 5,000m rankings for 2006.

Running at Heudsen in Belgium last weekend, Farah took a quantum leap in his own specialist event, improving his 5,000m personal best from 13min 30.53sec to 13:09.40. In doing so, he jumped to second on the UK all-time list, behind Dave Moorcroft's world record performance in Oslo 24 years ago of 13:00.41.

That makes the former Somali refugee - an adopted Londoner since the age of nine - faster than all five British runners who have won the European Championship 5,000m title: Jack Buckner (1986), Brendan Foster (1974), Ian Stewart (1969), Bruce Tulloh (1962) and Sydney Wooderson (1946). It makes him faster than Steve Ovett, Steve Cram, Dave Bedford and Tim Hutchings too.

On paper at least, in the black and white of the form book and the rankings, it also makes Farah a potential contender for a place on the podium in Gothenburg the week after next. Not that fast times in one-off races automatically equate to top-three finishes in the heat of championship battle, particularly in distance events.

"Obviously I'm learning a lot and closing the gap, but athletes like Alistair Cragg and the Spanish boys will be hard to beat in Gothenburg," Farah said. "I've run in the European juniors and the European Under-23s, but this will be my first senior Europeans. I just want to get out there and enjoy it and do what I can.

"I'm 23. I'm still learning. I've been training with Craig Mottram and I've learned a lot from him. I know he's a different class to anyone out there who mixes with the Africans. I believe in myself. I believe that one day I can do the same, but I can't just say I'm going to do that tomorrow or next year. It takes years of preparation and hard work."

Mottram's work ethic won him a 5,000m bronze medal at the World Championships in Hel-sinki last summer, the first medal gained by a non-African-born athlete at the distance since 1987. Farah trains with the Australian in London, based at UK Athletics' High Performance Centre for Endurance at St Mary's College in Twickenham, and is attacking his races this summer with the same uncompromising zeal as Mottram. In the 3,000m at the European Cup in Malaga last month he was narrowly edged out in a gripping last-lap battle with Gallardo, who will be contesting the 1500m in Gothenburg.

"I don't think Mo got anywhere near enough credit for that performance," Farah's coach, Alan Storey, asserted. "Yes, it was a slow race, but how many British athletes could run 52.1sec for the last lap? Mo's fairly quick, and that isn't by accident. He works in the gym with Mark Rowland, doing weights, conditioning and plyometrics. He's getting his due deserts for all the hard work he's put in over the past couple of years."

The same could be said of Storey himself. Employed as the technical director for endurance by UK Athletics, he has a mightily impressive track record as a distance-running guru. He guided Rowland to an Olympic medal, and did the same for Mike McLeod and Sonia O'Sullivan. His success with Farah also reflects on the pioneering endurance centre at St Mary's, which Storey manages.

It could easily have been different, though. Born in Mogadishu, Mohamed Farah was moved from war-torn Somalia to Djibouti at four and travelled to London five years later with the intention of visiting his father, who lived there, before settling in Holland with his grandmother. "That was the plan, to join my grandma in Holland," he reflected. "I really enjoyed it when I got here, so I stayed."