'Fly Mo' owes his golden moment to mental strength and moving to US
Coach's thorough approach, including use of underwater treadmills, helped earn victory
Monday 05 September 2011
For Mo Farah, it was a potentially unnerving déjà vu moment. As he entered the home straight in Daegu Stadium yesterday, the British favourite was leading a World Championship final with a green-vested Ethiopian athlete at his shoulder.
It had been just the same seven days previously. On that occasion, in the 10,000m, a race Farah had also been expected to win, he had no fuel left in the tank when Ibrahim Jeilan moved alongside him, no sixth gear with which to respond. It was different when it came to the denouement of the 5,000m final yesterday.
From the bell, Farah had been challenged for the lead by Jeilan's fellow-countryman, Dejen Gebremeskel. Down the back straight, the Ethiopian edged marginally in front. The pair were side by side around the final turn but Farah was narrowly in front coming into the home straight.
A penny for his thoughts at that stage, given what had transpired when the gold medal was beckoning him in the 10,000m. "I was thinking, 'Oh, no, not again!'" Farah confessed in the aftermath yesterday. "I had to believe in myself. I had to be strong and dig in. I just had to think of what my coach, Alberto Salazar, had told me: 'Don't let anyone past you in the home straight'."
It was not just anyone who was threatening Farah but Gebremeskel, the man who outsprinted him with just one shoe on in the 3,000m at the Boston Indoor Games in February. This time, however, the matchstick Briton judged his effort to perfection.
Having sat at the front but only wound up the pace by degrees, Farah had enough left not just to burn off Gebremeskel, who faded to third place, but also to resist the fast-finishing Bernard Lagat, who finished 0.28sec adrift as runner-up. In doing so – clocking a last lap of 53sec and a winning time of 13min 23.36sec – the 28-year-old Farah ended 115 years of hurt for British distance running. Since the inception of the modern Olympic Games in 1896, and the World Championships in 1983, no British man had previously won a global title in a long-distance event.
For all of Britain's proud heritage – for all that Brendan Foster, Dave Bedford, Dave Moorcroft and a whole host of others had tried – there was a great big, Great British historical void. Until yesterday – at the end of a week in which British distance running lost one of its finest characters, Mel Batty, who set a world 10-mile record at Hurlingham in 1964. The Essex man would have been mightily proud of the mighty Mo yesterday.
After dropping to his feet and kissing the track, Farah rushed to the front row of the stands for a family embrace with his wife, Tania, and their daughter, Rhianna. "He was in shock," Mrs Farah, a former classmate at Feltham Community College, reported later. "I said, 'Enjoy every moment of this. You deserve it'."
Her other half proceeded to enjoy a victory lap, clutching a Union Flag bearing the legend: "Fly Mo." The Flying Mo had come a long way in the 20 years since arriving as an eight-year-old from his native Somalia to settle with his father in London. Teased for his lack of English on his first day at junior school, he picked a fight with the toughest kid in the playground and was given a black eye.
It was his PE teacher at Feltham Community College, Alan Watkinson, who got the Arsenal supporting, football-loving Farah into running. "He had the bare minimum," Watkinson recalled yesterday. "He had his trainers and his school uniform. He couldn't afford spikes or any specialist athletics equipment. People pulled around and supported him."
Under the coaching of Alan Storey, Farah gradually turned from a party-loving junior international (he once jumped naked into the Thames off Kingston Bridge) into the dedicated full-time athlete who last year became the best distance runner in Europe , winning the 5,000m and the 10,000m at the continental championships in Barcelona. Since moving to the west coast of the United States in February this year and joining the group of US runners coached by Salazar, the former playground scrapper has become the best in the world.
"I would like to thank Alberto," Farah said yesterday. "I made a lot of sacrifices moving away, but I'm glad I made that choice because it's working." It certainly is – all of the high mileage in and around the Nike campus at Beaverton, on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, all of the extra time spent pounding the underwater and anti-gravity treadmills there. Then again, perhaps the most important part of Salazar's no-pebble-left-unturned approach has been instilling belief in an athlete who finished down in seventh in the 5,000m at the last World Championships, in Berlin two years ago.
Salazar was at trackside yesterday, sharing the golden moment. "It was Mo who got it right," the former marathon great said. "He did the work. The idea in the last 450m was to crank up the pace every 100m, to leave something in reserve for the last 100m."
The result was not quite what Farah's father had envisaged for his son when Mo first arrived in Britain. "My father always wanted me to get an education and be a doctor," the newly crowned world 5,000m champion recalled yesterday. "I'd say, 'I'm going running.' And he would say, 'Why? You need to do your homework.'"Right now, I'm sure he must be very proud of me."
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