Farah set to harvest European record of retired gardener


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The Independent Online

Emiel Puttemans is planning to get on his bike this afternoon. "I'll be cycling to the sea," he said.

By the time he makes it back to his home on the outskirts of Leuven, 18 miles east of Brussels, the retired gardener expects to be the former holder of the European indoor two miles record.

It was only when The Independent telephoned yesterday that Puttemans became aware that the 8min 13.2sec he clocked on a wooden track in West Berlin on 18 February, 1973, might be living on borrowed time. The feature race of the Aviva Grand Prix at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham this afternoon is a two-mile race featuring Mo Farah.

"I don't follow athletics too much these days but I have seen Mo Farah run on television," Puttemans said of the 28-year-old Briton who won the world 5,000m title last summer. "What is his best time for 5,000m?"

At the Diamond League meeting in Monaco in July last year Farah clocked 12min 53.11sec. "Then I think he can run 8:04 or 8:05," Puttemans said. "He can run well inside my record. I am surprised it has lasted so long."

The world record – or, rather "world best" – for the rarely run two mile distance indoors stands at 8:04.35. It was set on the tightly-banked Birmingham track by Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia in 2008. Whether Farah is quite in shape to string together two 4min 02sec miles remains to be seen, but he can certainly expect to finish inside 8:10 for the combined distance. His training partner, Galen Rupp, set an American record of 8:09.72 last week. When Puttemans' ancient continental mark was put to Farah yesterday he insisted he had no specific target time in mind. "I'll just go with the race and not think about the time," he said. "The most important thing is to win the race."

Farah showed with his 1500m win against Augustine Choge in Glasgow three weeks ago that he is in razor sharp form. He has, however, arrived back in Britain still rather cut up about his fourth-placed finish in the mile at the New Balance Indoor Games in Boston on 4 February. "I really wanted a fast time," he said, not at all consoled by the fact he fell, yet still managed to record a sub four minute mile (3:57.92).

At least Farah started running in the right direction when he got back to his feet. After taking a tumble in the 3,000m heats at the European Indoor Championships in Birmingham in 2007 he memorably set off in the opposite direction to the field. "It's frustrating," he said of his most recent fall, "but you've just got to get on with it. It's all part of the sport."

As the 64-year-old Puttemans knows only too well. He was in the Olympic 10,000m final in Munich in 1972, in which Lasse Viren fell in mid race but won in a world record time, 27min 38.4sec. Puttemans finished second behind the Finnish policeman. "He was just too fast for me on the last lap," the Belgian said.

It might have been different had Puttemans not expended so much energy in his heat. He and Dave Bedford ran so fast the great British hope turned to him with 2,000m to go and said: "Let's go for the world record." "We could have broken it easily," Puttemans reflected, "but I said to Dave, 'No, it's only the heat'. Maybe if we had run easier from the start in the heat it would have been different for both of us in the final."

Bedford finished out of the medals in the final, down in sixth. "Dave was a good runner," Puttemans added. "So was Brendan Foster, and Ian Stewart too. Most of the best distance runners then were European."

Stewart, who took the 5,000m bronze behind the victorious Viren in the 5,000m in Munich, happens to be the meeting director of today's showpiece event in Birmingham. "Please pass on my regards to him, and to Dave Bedford and Brendan Foster," Puttemans said. "And wish Mo Farah all the best for the two miles."