I couldn't watch, says teacher who saw Mo's first steps on path to glory
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Monday 06 August 2012
Of the 80,000 people inside the Olympic Stadium who roared Mo Farah to victory this weekend, Alan Watkinson knew most about the 18-year journey behind it.
The distance runner's former PE teacher was also probably the only spectator who did not see his protege's gold medal moment.
Mr Watkinson revealed yesterday that he had been so overcome by emotion as Saturday night's 10,000m final reached its climax that he did not see the athlete he first met as a gawky, slightly troublesome 11-year-old kid cross the finishing line.
The teacher-turned-sports-writer was joined by millions who doubtless shed a triumphal tear as Farah was joined on the track by his daughter and pregnant wife – but more than others he knew the enormity of the Briton's achievement.
Mr Watkinson said: "It was just a remarkable feeling. From knowing him 17, 18 years ago and seeing him develop from that youth who had a few troubles at school but who was charming and good humoured, to see him go from that to the stadium in London, you couldn't make it up."
Reliving how he watched the race from the stands as Farah was pursued along his lap-long finishing sprint by a wall of sound, the Olympic champion's mentor and close friend said: "I was jumping up and down and screaming. The people next to me must have thought 'who's this guy?' Tears were rolling down my cheeks. I don't think I even saw him go across the finish line I was so emotional."
Farah, who came to Britain from Somalia with his father at the age of eight, found himself at Feltham Community College in west London three years later under the watchful eye of his PE teacher, who spotted that the gangly-limbed kid with a limited grip on English had potential on the running track.
Mr Watkinson took Mo under his wing, bribing him to victory in an English schools' cross-country race by offering him a football kit in return for first place. The rest is Olympian history.
As Farah yesterday interrupted his preparation for the 5,000-metres for the small formality of his medal ceremony for Super Saturday's heroics, his success was widely interpreted as an advert for British multiculturalism.
By the time the soon-to-be father of twins, who is a devout Muslim, crossed the finishing line, there were 17.1 million Britons watching, more than for Jessica Ennis, herself the product of a mixed-race family.
When asked by a journalist after the race if he wished he had been running for Somalia, Farah said: "Look mate, this is my country. This is where I grew up, this is where I started life. This is my country and when I put on my Great Britain vest I'm proud. I'm very proud. If it wasn't for the crowd and people shouting out my name, cheering and putting the Union Jack up, I don't think it would have happened."
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