There have been crossroads in Mo Farah’s life defined by Haile Gebrselassie.
There was the great Ethiopian’s titanic 10,000m Olympic battle in Sydney in 2000 with Paul Tergat, which Farah watched from his school common room, leaning forward in his chair willing Gebrselassie on to win. “That was one of the greatest races I’ve ever watched and from that point I said ‘I want to be Olympic champion’,” said Farah yesterday.
Then there were the more recent comments by Gebrselassie doubting if Farah would ever upset the Ethiopian and Kenyan dominance, remarks the Londoner admitted had been a driving factor in his recent success.
Those episodes, spanning 13 years, act as a poignant precusor to the pair’s encounter in tomorrow’s Bupa Great North Run, a race billed as a battle of three dominant eras of distance running.
Lining up against them is Kenenisa Bekele and the trio’s achievements are remarkable: Bekele is a three-time Olympic gold medallist, 17-time world champion and world record holder for the 5,000m and 10,000m while Gebrselassie boasts two Olympic and nine world titles, and has recorded 26 world records in his illustrious career. Farah has two Olympic and three World Championship gold medals but, without the world records, there is some conjecture whether he can be considered an all-time great.
Gebrselassie is adamant there should be no queries. “Of course, there’s no question about that,” he said. “He’s already [great]. Look at what he did, World Championships two years ago, Olympics last year, this year World Championship. Nobody expected it.”
The great Ethiopian, at 40 not quite a spent force, believes Farah can continue to dominate distance running on the track, and that he can add the one thing missing from his running CV.
“Of course, if he can win the championship, why not the world record?” said Gebrselassie. “It’s a kind of different training maybe, instead of kicking at the end, pushing from the beginning to the end. This is his time.”
Bekele, also Ethiopian, insisted Farah needed those top times to be considered great. “It’s very important to put down world records – that makes it special,” he said. “For sportsmen, it’s Olympics and World Championships but world records are very important, they’re bigger. He should do something, world records, to get real respect and be on that same level.”
It remains to be seen whether Farah’s current distance hegemony is challenged tomorrow on less familiar footing in the form of road running. He should come out on top, Gebrselassie being past his best and Bekele admitting he is still not quite 100 per cent after his injury problems.
But Farah sees the Great North Run as merely the start of a series of on-going battles. “I believe I’m going to race Kenenisa many, many times,” he said. “He’ll go from the track to road and we’ve got a lot ahead of us.”
The battles begin in Gateshead, and Farah is well aware of the historic nature of what is a world-class field. “It will be nice to have three of us: Haile dominating since Sydney and Kenenisa in Beijing and me in London, so it’s nice to have that era,” he said. “It’s an honour to line up against such great guys in terms of what Kenenisa has achieved in athletics, same with Haile. For us, you can’t get any better than this.”