World Athletics Championships: Why Mo Farah knows no limits

The double Olympic champion is the man everyone wants to beat but no one can catch. On Saturday he starts his quest to strike more gold in Moscow. Simon Turnbull on why no one bets against him

In the opinion of the esteemed distance running coach Renato Canova, Mo Farah’s rivals have just one hope of beating him. “Wait,” the Italian guru said. “He will become old.”

Sadly, for the rest of the world’s leading 5,000 metres and 10,000m runners – those formerly formidable sons of Ethiopia and Kenya – the ageing process is unlikely to catch up with the 30-year-old Briton quickly enough over the next seven days to stop him following his home Olympic double with another pair of gold medal-winning performances at the World Championships here in the Russian capital. Indeed, worryingly enough for them, since winning twice over at London 2012 and entering his thirties, Farah has managed to acquire a shield of invincibility in the razor-sharp form of his deadly basic speed.

It was one thing for him to grit his teeth in the home straight and dig deep enough to hold off his rivals in the 5,000m and 10,000m finals in London. It has been quite another in recent weeks to have seen him unleash a 50.89sec last lap in the European Team Championships at Gateshead and a 25sec last 200 metres in the Diamond league 5,000m at Birmingham. Then there was the stunning 3min 28.81sec run in the 1500m in Monaco that smashed Steve Cram’s British record and broke the European record too.

That he will line up for the 10,000m final this afternoon in the stadium where Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe fought their epic Olympic duels in 1980 as a faster metric miler than both ever were is a measure of the breadth of a talent that the distance-running world – with all of its revered historical greats (Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zatopek, Lasse Viren, Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele) – has never quite seen before.

“Right now he’s the best runner in the world and he could end up the greatest ever by the time he finishes his career,” Steve Jones ventured. The Welshman is well placed to judge. He holds the long-standing British (and former world) record time that will be at Farah’s mercy when he steps up to the marathon in London next April.

In Jones’ opinion, Farah is capable of not just breaking his British record, which has stood at 2hr 7min 13sec since 1985, but also Patrik Makau’s world record figures of 2:03.38.

“He could break 2hr 3min,” said Jones, who has settled with his family in Boulder, Colorado, but who has been back on home ground this week in his capacity as an ambassador for the Lloyds TSB Cardiff Half Marathon, which takes place on 6 October. “He has all the tools, on paper, but we will have to wait and see what happens when it comes to 26.2 miles.

“I can’t see anyone beating him in the 5,000m or 10,000m in Moscow,” Jones added. “He has run a 50sec  last lap and a 3min 28sec 1500m. There’s no one who can beat him. I think he’s psyched out his rivals before he’s started.

“They can try to beat him but he doesn’t have a weakness. He’s so far superior right now, he can have a bit of an off-day and still win.”

Jones himself has a vested interest in the opening day’s action in Moscow today. He coaches Susan Partridge, the Scot who runs for Britain in the women’s marathon.

One of Jones’ old marathon, 10,000m and cross-country rivals, Alberto Salazar, is the coach behind Farah’s transformation from also-ran to world-beater. The three-time New York Marathon champion has been guiding the Londoner in Portland on the west coast of the United States for the past two and a half years and his ultra-holistic approach to distance-running training has been responsible for giving Farah a vital cutting edge.

“Alberto has done a great job with Mo,” Jones said. “He’s made the  difference. You always know that if Alberto has a theory or a thought in mind then he goes for it 100 per cent. He doesn’t do anything by halves. There’s no holding back.”

Since his charge got the target of double Olympic champion on his back, Salazar has been honing his basic speed and acceleration with specialised sprint training. He has also had the featherweight Farah bobbing, weaving and throwing punches in the boxing ring.

“We do a lot of different combinations in training,” Farah said. “I’m not going to give away too much of my training but, yeah, we do a lot of  different stuff and boxing is part of my training. Watch out Amir Khan; that’s all I’ll say... No, I’m only joking.

“But, for sure, when you become Olympic champion, and world champion, it is like you have a target on your back. There are a lot more eyes on you. The other athletes are a lot more aware of you and what you do.

“So you’ve got to get yourself ready. You’ve got to make sure you’re ready for the challenge. I’ve put in some good training this year with Alberto and everybody out in Portland. And, more than anything else, more than fast times, I just want to win races.”

Farah has lost once this year but in that race he was suffering from the effects of a virus when he trailed in behind Edwin Soi of Kenya in the 5,000m at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene. Barring a bug or an injury, nothing is likely to stop him on the first leg of his golden double in the Russian capital today – here in Mo-scow, as it could come to be known by the end of next week.

The double double: A very exclusive feat

The list of athletes who have followed Olympic doubles in the men’s 5,000m and 10,000m with World Championship golds in the same events 12 months later – a feat Mo Farah stands to achieve in Moscow – numbers precisely one.

Kenenisa Bekele accomplished the coveted distance track double at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and at the World Championships in Berlin in 2009.

Farah himself would be chasing a triple global double in Moscow this week had he not been caught by the surprise challenge of Bekele’s Ethiopian compatriot Ibrahim Jeilan in the home straight of the World Championship 10,000m final in Daegu in 2011.

The diminutive Bekele, now 31 and a rapidly fading force, has won five World Championship golds on the track, having preceded his Beijing double with success in the 10,000m in Paris in 2003 (when he also claimed bronze in the 5,000m), Helsinki in 2005 and Osaka in 2007, and three Olympic crowns, having won the 10,000m in Athens in 2004.

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