Can there be such a thing as a banker in 30-degree heat, running 25 laps through Beijing’s smog-filled air? If so, Britain has one in Mo Farah in the 10,000 metres at the World Championships here today.
Farah has shown this season that he has both the endurance – having eclipsed the world’s best runners in Eugene, Oregon, over 10,000m at the end of May – and speed: he boasts the fourth-quickest time in the world for the 1500m this season, set in Monaco last month.
The biggest question mark appeared to be against his state of mind after, in his own words, his name was “dragged through the mud” in the wake of doping allegations against his coach, Alberto Salazar, and training partner, Galen Rupp, which both men deny.
It led Farah to employ a team of public relations experts from Freud’s, whose advice has mostly been to say very little on the matter.
Salazar remains central to a United States Anti-Doping Agency investigation and Farah has been questioned at length. This week Usada’s chief executive, Travis Tygart, suggested that Farah may yet have a further role to play. But Beijing is a reunion for athlete and coach, their first time together for nearly two months, during which the Londoner has been training in Font Romeu, in the Pyrenees, as is his custom.
Farah has made it clear he plans to stand by his man, although in the build-up to the World Championships he appeared reticent to talk about the figure responsible for much of his success.
It is worth noting that Farah has lost just one major championship race since the pair started working together and that was their first – the 10,000m in Daegu in 2011 when Farah was pipped to the world title by Ibrahim Jeilan. Since then, Farah has lost just 11 races under Salazar’s tutelage, but none when a gold medal has been at stake.
In the build-up to China, Farah has been working with British Athletics’ head of endurance, Barry Fudge, describing him as “my right-hand man here”. When asked what it would be like to have Salazar at his side once more, he said: “When you’re out here, pretty much the most important thing is having my team around.”
Intriguingly, Salazar was not even mentioned by name – hardly a glowing endorsement of the Oregon Project head – but Farah, who will line up in the 10,000m on Saturday alongside fellow Oregon Project athletes Rupp and Cam Levins, has his sights firmly set on his now trademark double gold.
Can he add Beijing 2015 to London 2012 and Moscow 2013 and become the first athlete to achieve three consecutive global doubles in long-distance running? On paper, he is the fastest man in the field, his most likely challenger being Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor, who can only aspire to upset Farah if his Kenyan team-mates work with him, a tactic the race favourite is expecting.
“I think early on they will try to do something to burn me out or tire me out for the 5km,” Farah said. “I am kind of expecting that. If I don’t see anything I will be really surprised but I am sure there will be some moves somewhere. But I’m confident, as long as I can run my own race, judge the race well – that’s what really matters – and obviously at the end be there.”
Whatever the Kenyans’ tactics to date, they have not worked. Farah added: “It has to change. I’m sure it will. I’ll be surprised if they don’t say, ‘Let’s get this guy, let’s kick as hard as we can’. That’s what I’d do but you never know. I’m kind of surprised it hasn’t happened before now.”
For all that can be said about Farah – and plenty has in recent weeks – his mental toughness has been impressive, both in training and competition.
Asked how he felt he had handled the situation, he said: “Most things I’ve been in control of I’ve dealt with reasonably well. For me, the most important thing is to keep collecting medals for my country. I’m happy and relaxed. Everything feels good at the minute.”
The British team will be looking to Farah to get them off to a winning start on the first day of competition and he said: “If you’re the first one, then everyone is looking at you. So if you win the gold, it gives the team a massive boost and confidence.”
If successful, it will be a fourth straight championships where Farah will have achieved the double, putting him on a par with Usain Bolt. But it is a goal the 32-year-old Farah admits grows harder every year.
“Your body doesn’t allow you to do certain things as you get older,” he said. “That’s always a challenge. Some things you got away with last year, you can’t quite get away with the following year. You’ve got to be smart, you’ve got to have confidence and believe in yourself. Someone we all look up to, Usain Bolt, he’s shown that. Year in, year out he can do it and carry on.”
For Bolt and Farah, the memories of Beijing 2008 are very different but proved to be turning points in both their careers. For Bolt, there was the sprint gold treble as well as the world records; for Farah, the realisation that he was still off the pace of the East Africans.
He missed out on a place in the 5,000m final. “It was the biggest disappointment of my career,” he said. “It’s every athlete’s dream to go to the Olympics and get in the final or do great things.
“I remember clearly in Beijing getting knocked out and coming home with my head down, knowing I could have got to the final but I didn’t. That was quite hard. But I turned it around quite well. I came back four years later in London, my home town, and that was the most amazing thing ever. So it would be good to do well. I want to go out there and make history.”
It will be done without his family at his side for once, wife Tania staying in Portland with their three children. A fourth is on the way. One of the twins is showing signs of being a keen runner and Farah says the time apart from them – seven months in a year – does not become any easier but he has no regrets.
“Would I change anything? No. It’s not easy when you explain to kids, but I’m sure one day they will understand and they will be proud of me.” Another double gold would help the explanation.Reuse content