Athletics: Farah takes a long-distance viewpoint after quick start

Athlete of the year faces stiff test with old housemates

Down Twickenham way, not all is doom, gloom and fear of what 2007 might hold in store. In contrast to his near neighbours at England's rugby union HQ, where the Webb Ellis Cup rests on borrowed time, Mo Farah is busy gathering an impressive collection of freshly acquired silverware, and some gold too.

Back in August, the Somali refugee who settled in London aged eight took the 5,000m silver medal at the track-and- field European Championships in Gothenburg. In December, he struck gold at the European Cross Country Championships at San Giorgio su Legnano in northern Italy. In between, the 23-year-old collected the British Athletics Writers' Association's Male Athlete of the Year trophy. He was the first distance runner to receive the award since Brendan Foster in 1976.

Not that Farah was aware of that little milestone until he took time out from training on Friday at the UK Athletics High Performance Centre for Endurance, based within St Mary's College in Twickenham, to publicise his appearance in the 3,000m at the Norwich Union European Indoor Trials in Sheffield on 10 and 11 February and in an intriguing cycling-style "devil-take-the-hindmost" mile race at the Norwich Union British Grand Prix in Birmingham on 17 February.

"Wow!" he exclaimed when the gap back to Foster's reign was pointed out to him. "I have looked at the names on the trophy - Steve Cram, Colin Jackson, Daley Thompson - but I didn't realise I was the first distance runner since Brendan Foster. There are so many names on the trophy; it's incredible to have my name alongside them."

A year ago, he was just another former junior star (the European junior 5,000m champion of 2001) struggling to make a name for himself as a senior international. His breakthrough came in Heusden, Holland, last July, when he improved his 5,000m personal best by 21 seconds, clocking 13min 9.40sec and catapulting to second behind Dave Moorcroft on the UK all-time list.

Taking silver at the European Championships, a tantalising 0.09sec behind Jesus España of Spain, endorsed Farah's new-found credentials, as did his winning run in the European Cross Country Championships last month. At Continental level, the adopted Londoner has established himself as a major player in the distance-running game. In the global scheme, however, he still has some way to go.

Farah's Heusden run was good enough for only 39th place in the world rankings for 2006, and his progress in 2007 will be judged on how he fares against the Africans and the rest at the World Championships in Osaka in August. With that in mind, while he aims to contest the 3,000m at the European Indoor Championships on home ground at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham on 2 to 4 March, his principal target leading towards the outdoor track season is the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa on 24 March.

"I've got to think ahead here," Farah reflected. "It's taken me years to get to where I am now, and to make the step up to the next level means racing against guys who are world champions, guys who are in a completely different class. I believe it's possible for me to do it, but I don't know how long it will take."

At 23, Farah has time on his side - as well as Alan Storey and Mark Rowland, who oversee his training at St Mary's College. He also has the knowledge he gained from the time he spent living in a house full of world-class Kenyan runners in Teddington, before he moving into a house in Twickenham for British runners based at St Mary's.

Today, Farah runs against a former Kenyan housemate, Micah Kogo, in the annual international cross-country race at Amorebieta in northern Spain. Next Saturday he faces España, his Gothenburg conqueror, in the EventScotland Great Edinburgh International Cross Country meeting in Holyrood Park.