Farah makes rapid strides to begin new adventure

Distance runner who went Stateside defends title and will attempt first half-marathon in New York
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The Independent Online

On the opening day of the European Indoor Championships there were British medal celebrations courtesy of the girl from Ypsilanti, Michigan – Iggy Pop's home town. Twenty-four hours on from Tiffany Ofili's silver in the 60m hurdles, the first British gold was delivered in the Palais Omnisports de Bercy by the Somali-born, London-raised distance runner who is setting up home on the Oregon trail and is bound for the Big Apple for the first test on his new frontier.

Mo Farah had barely crossed the finish line after a successful defence of his 3,000m title when it was announced that he would be running in the New York City Half Marathon on 20 March. It came as confirmation that the reigning male British athlete of the year happens to be expanding his horizons in every respect. It will be his debut at the 13.1-mile distance.

At 27, having become untouchable on the European scene, Farah reached a crossroads in his running career and decided to set out in a new direction. After a testing of the waters at Beaverton in Oregon, he has chosen to join the elite group of Americans coached there by former marathon great Alberto Salazar. Thankfully for British athletics, he will continue to earn his stripes as a star running under the flag of the Union Jack.

Still, there was a feeling of Farah closing a chapter yesterday as he added another European title to his curriculum vitae – his third in eight months, following his 5,000m and 10,000m double at the outdoor European Championships in Barcelona last July. As was the case in the shorter event in the Catalan capital, he had to dig deep for his victory.

After taking the lead with six laps to go and winding up the pace from the front, Farah was unable to shake off Hayle Ibrahimov. The Azerbaijan athlete, born in Ethiopia, attempted an overtaking manoeuvre down the back straight on the final lap but Farah managed to resist it and held on to win by 0.32sec in 7min 53.00sec. There might have been a double medal success for Britain but Andy Baddeley was outkicked for the bronze by Halil Akkas of Turkey, finishing fourth in 7:54.49.

"I had to work hard to win that," Farah said. "Alberto told me, 'I don't want you to go from early in the race. I want you to learn something. Make sure you have something left at the end'. It's nice to win on the European circuit again but there are bigger challenges ahead for me. I hope Alberto can take me to the next level, help me get that second, half a second that I need to find to get a medal in the World Championships."

There was another medal for the British team here yesterday. In the 400m Richard Buck snatched bronze in 46.62sec as his team-mate Richard Strachan faded from second to fifth in the home straight in his all-out pursuit of Frenchman Leslie Djhone, a clear winner in 45.54sec. Not that Buck was happy with his first individual medal at international championship level. "I'm disappointed," the York runner confessed. "I went out for the win."

There will be a clutch of British athletes going into finals with the same intention on the concluding afternoon of competition today – Jenny Meadows (800m), Helen Clitheroe (3,000m), Andrew Osagie (800m) and Dwain Chambers (60m) all having qualified impressively from semi-finals yesterday.

For the youngest member of the team, however, it is a victory simply to have made the final cut. On her first day on senior international duty, Jodie Williams not only overcame nerves in her 60m heat and semi-final, she got past enough of her elders to reach the ultimate stage.

The 17-year-old A-Level student from Welwyn Garden City finished third in her morning heat in 7.31sec and clocked 7.21sec – a lifetime best – for fourth place in her semi-final.

"I was a bit calmer this afternoon," she said. "It's always a confidence boost when you have just run a personal best going into a final. I think it was really daunting this morning. I did not run a good race in the heat. It was all a bit too much. But I am a lot stronger than I thought I was and I am really happy with how I've done. These other girls are running 7.1sec. There is no way I am going to challenge them in the final. I'm just going to run and see what I can do."

The world junior 100m champion has already got further than the youngest British representative at these championships managed to do in Grenoble in 1972. Sonia Lannaman was 15 when she ran in the 50m that year. She reached the semi-finals but missed out on the final by 0.02sec to Irena Szewinska, the great Pole who remains the only athlete to set world records at 100m, 200m and 400m, and who was watching the Welwyn Garden Whizz Kid from the stands.