As a youngster in west London, Mo Farah had posters of Muhammad Ali on his bedroom wall. Now the double Olympic champion has added boxing to his already exhaustive training regime in an attempt to fight off contenders to his crown as the king of the middle-distance world.
On the Geordie version of Super Saturday yesterday, day one of the European Athletics Team Championships, the Londoner with the Midas touch floated like a butterfly before stinging with the venom of a killer bee. Given Farah's vast superiority to his Continental rivals, the 12-and-a-half laps of the 5,000 metres could have been a meaningless, routine affair for him. Instead, to the raucous delight of the 11,000 crowd, he turned it into a more-than-useful exercise in testing another weapon that he has been busy grafting into his armoury.
Having found no need to test the bobbing, weaving and toughening he has been undergoing with the aim of counteracting the rough and tumble of close-quarter tactical racing, the Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m champion settled upon examining the raw sprint speed he has been developing in training. He did so to stunning effect.
The pace to the bell might have been a dawdle by his standards, but the manner in which he then took off was something to behold. It was as if he was rising from starting blocks as he zoomed away in the style of Billy Whizz. By the finish, Farah was 2.91sec clear of his closest pursuer, crossing the line in a modest 14min 10.00sec. But his split time for the final 400m lap was anything but modest, clocked at 50.89sec, a positively Boltesque speed for a distance runner.
It was on the same track in 1977 that the Ethiopian Miruts Yifter left the world gobsmacked with a 54.6sec last lap that burned off no less a sprint finisher than Steve Ovett in the Gateshead Games 5,000m, earning the moniker "Yifter the Shifter" from David Coleman on BBC TV. Moreover, when Farah completed his golden double in London last summer, his last lap in the 5,000m final was 52.9sec.
Farah might have been beaten by a virus, and by Kenya's Edwin Soi, in the Diamond League 5,000m in Eugene three weeks ago, but if any of his rivals have designs on his 5,000m title at the World Championships in Moscow in August – and on the 10,000m – they had better get out the starting blocks quickly. And the boxing gloves.
"It's important to work on your tactics," Farah said. "I got a text from my coach, Alberto Salazar, saying to wait until the last lap, and I did. I've done my bit for the team. Now I can get off and manage the Arsenal Legends."
While his British team-mates tackle the final day at Gateshead, Farah will be at Underhill Stadium in Barnet this afternoon, in charge of Tony Adams, Ian Wright and other old Gunners in a charity match for World Refugee Day. At "half-time" on Tyneside, the GB squad stand third on 181 points, behind Germany (195) and Russia (194).
For fleeting moments yesterday it was like London's Super Saturday all over again. Farah was out on the track, toying with the opposition in the 5,000m. Greg Rutherford was getting ready to roll on the long-jump runway. And Jess had already got the ball rolling with a British victory. The New Jess, that is.
In the absence of Jessica Ennis-Hill, 18-year-old Jessica Judd snatched her opportunity to make a name for herself on the occasion of her senior international debut.
Under the guidance of Rob Denmark, the 1994 Commonwealth 5,000m champion, the Canvey Islander has been making rapid strides as an 800m runner this summer and was unfazed by the championship medal winners as she produced a carpe diem of a performance, hitting the front with 250m and hanging on to beat Russia's Ekaterina Sharmina by 0.04sec in 2:00.82.
In doing so, the Essex girl fared better than Rutherford. Hampered by injury, the Olympic long- jump champ had to settle for fourth with 8.02m.
Meanwhile, world 400m hurdles champion Dai Greene suffered a shock defeat. In only his second race of the season, he finished second to Germany's Silvio Schirrmeister, who set a personal best of 49.15sec.
There were British victories, though, for Eilidh Child, with a Scottish-record 54.42sec in the 400m hurdles; Perri Shakes-Drayton, with a lifetime best 50.50sec in the flat 400m; and for a men's 4 x 100m quartet anchored by James Dasaolu.
Bolt given jolt by Gay
Usain Bolt was disappointed with his performance in winning the 100 metres at Jamaica championships. The sprinter, whose main target is the world championships in August, clocked 9.94 seconds in front of a half-empty stadium in Kingston. Bolt admitted his start was poor and his "execution wasn't the best" during the race. "I've got a lot more work to do," he added. In contrast, Tyson Gay posted the fastest time in the world this year – 9.75 secs – in winning the United States championships. Marlon Devonish, who won Olympic gold in Athens as part of the British sprint relay team in 2004, has retired at the age of 37.