Farah completes rare double as life of sacrifice yields rewards

English long distance champion insists he can beat the Kenyans at the London Olympics
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The Independent Online

Mo Farah dipped his hand into the pocket of his shorts and pulled out a mobile phone. "Look," he said, flipping open the device. "I've got a photo of it here." It was an image of a big black pot, steaming away on top of a fire out in the wilds somewhere.

The new golden boy of British sport was sitting in the H10 hotel here in the capital of Catalonia yesterday, explaining why he had sunk to his knees on the track at the Montjuic Olympic Stadium the night before, unable to prevent the HO from streaming from his eyes. "It just meant so much," Farah said. "I've worked so hard. I've spent so much time away from my family, up in the mountains training with the Kenyan guys. For three months I was training with them, living a simple life, where you just go into a training camp and the boys are cooking in a little pot on an open fire."

Cooking up a recipe for the success that Farah has enjoyed at the European Championships, perhaps – the double success.

On the opening night last Tuesday, the 27-year-old won the 10,000m at his leisure, tormenting the opposition before sprinting clear with 300m remaining. On Saturday night, he won the 5,000m final with the mark of the class-act distance runner he has become, assuming the lead with three laps to go and steadily ratcheting up the pace until his rivals could bear it no more.

In Gothenburg four years ago, Farah was beaten to the 5,000m title by 0.09sec, losing to a Spaniard by the name of Jesus Espana. On Spanish soil, he exacted full revenge, crossing the finish line in 13min 31.18sec, almost two seconds clear of Espana.

Born in Somalia, but a Londoner since the age of eight, Farah is the first Briton to complete a 5,000m-10,000m double at a major championship, and only the fifth man of any nationality to accomplish the feat in the 66-year history of the European Championships. The first, in 1950, was the great Emil Zatopek.

He famously trained in army boots, running through the woods on the outskirts of Prague. Farah has emerged from the madding crowd via the boot camps of Kenya. For several years now, he has trained in and around south-west London with the Kenyan distance runners who base themselves in the English capital for the European track season. Over the last two years, he has spent increasingly prolonged spells with them at their spartan training camps in East Africa.

"I'm used to it now," Farah said, "sharing a room with three guys, just getting through training and eating when they eat. As an athlete, you have to make a lot of sacrifices and for me that is spending time away from my family, training with the Kenyan guys. If you want to have any chance of being the best, you have to train with the best and the guys are really good but humble and easy-going.

"All you do every day is eat, sleep, train. Everything is just focused on training, nothing else. There's no distractions – no television, no going to the cinema, just focus... Having said that, you can get mobile phone reception in some places. You can get a signal and watch Arsenal matches in the middle of nowhere.

"But it is a simple existence. And for the Kenyan guys, making it as a distance runner is a way out of poverty. They have nothing. It's the only way they get out and help feed their families. Every time they earn something, it goes back to the family. And from there they build themselves a house. The only way out is by running. That's why they do it."

They do it with a hunger and a talent that serves them and their families well. Farah might be the bright new thing of British sport, and a double European champion, but he stands only 24th in the world rankings over 5,000m. Twelve of the runners ahead of him are Kenyan.

"Of course they are beatable," he said, contemplating the global challenge he will face at the World Championships next year in Daegu, South Korea, and on home ground at the 2012 Olympics.

"You've just got to be strong and you've got to mix it with them. I finished seventh in the 5,000m at the World Championships last year and sixth in 2007.

"I've got to believe in myself and I believe I can mix it with these guys. You've also got to get it right on the day. It's not about how fast you run. It's a matter of getting it right tactically, and that's what I did last night."

He did that, conquering Europe for a second time in four days. Now for the world, and the Kenyans.