A flying finish by the boys and girls in red, white and blue brought a record haul of nine medals for the British team by the end of the third and final day of the World Indoor Championships here in Istanbul. There were five in all yesterday, and a timely return to gold-standard form for our only reigning Olympic track and field champion, Christine Ohuruogu, albeit as the vital cog in an inspired women's 4 x 400m relay quartet.
Five months out from the London Olympics, second place behind the United States in the medal table was reason for quiet satisfaction in the head coach Charles van Commenee and his squad. For the London-raised runner who entered 2012 as the golden boy of British athletics, however, there was not even the consolation of a bronze lining, and grounds for some concern.
Last summer Mo Farah looked unbeatable – and, indeed, remained unbeaten in every race bar one, when the Ethiopian Ibrahim Jeilan caught him by surprise in the home straight in the 10,000m final at the outdoor World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. When it came to the crunch on the 15th and final lap of the 3,000m final yesterday, though, the shield of invincibility that had already taken a few piercings in this indoor season was gashed.
As Bernard Lagat of the United States sped to victory in 7min 41.44 sec, Farah was unable to respond. He did get baulked as he tried to get past the Kenyan duo, Augustine Choge and Edwin Soi, going into the final bend but by that stage Lagat was away. The Briton, who had too much in the tank for Lagat when he won his world 5,000m title in Daegu, was fourth in 7:41.79, 0.35sec short of the gold.
He did close to within 0.02sec of Choge, who finished second, and within 0.01sec of Soi, who snatched third – and, after exiting the arena in a speechless state of disappointment, he was briefly promoted to the bronze medal position. Soi was initially disqualified for obstructing Farah but was subsequently reinstated after the Kenyan team management lodged an appeal.
"I believe he was obstructed," Van Commenee said, "but you cannot protest against a protest." Not that it would have made much difference to Farah. "For a minute, I did think they'd awarded me the bronze," he said, after returning to track-side, "but I have to be disappointed no matter what, whether I finished third or fourth."
Farah opened his indoor season looking razor-sharp, outsprinting Choge over 1500m in Glasgow at the end of January. Since then, however, his edge has been blunted. A fourth-placed finish in the mile at the Boston Games could be explained by the mid-race tumble he took. But in the two-mile race at the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham three weeks ago he looked heavy legged, having to dig deep to haul himself from fourth place at the bell to be second to Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, taking little consolation from breaking the British and European records.
Having finished second to Choge in his 3,000m heat here on Friday (but ahead of a far from flat-out Lagat), the world 5,000m champion has now lost four races in a row. "I've just got to learn from this," Farah said. "It just proves again that you can't take anything for granted. I need to keep working hard."
The fact that Farah was doing up to 130miles a week in training out in Kenya with the British endurance team at the start of the year, and with Alberto Salazar's training group in Albuquerque in recent weeks, could prompt some to suggest that he might be working a little too hard. Lagat runs only "between 60 and 75 miles a week" but he is a former 1500m runner who has pushed up to the domain of the 5,000m outdoors. Farah is a 5,000m cum 10,000m man.
Lagat, for one, still sees the 28-year-old Briton as "the man to beat" in London this summer. "Oh, absolutely," the 37-year-old American said. "He's going away from here not with anger but with a lot of hunger. He's got to be one of the toughest guys."
Team GB: honour roll
Gold Yamile Aldama (triple jump) Women's 4x400m relay (Shana Cox, Nicola Sanders, Christine Ohuruogu, Perri-Shakes Drayton)
Silver Jessica Ennis (pentathlon), Tiffany Porter (60m hurdles),Men's 4x400m relay (Conrad Williams, Nigel Levine, Michael Bingham, Richard Buck)
Bronze Dwain Chambers (60m), Shara Proctor (long jump), Holly Bleasdale (pole vault), Andrew Osagie (800m)