As a youngster growing up in Hounslow on the west side of London, Mohammed Farah had posters of Muhammad Ali covering his bedroom wall. In terms of poundage, the flyweight British distance runner is no match for the hallowed heavyweight champion. After delivering the second part of a momentous one-two to his rivals in the ring of London 2012's showpiece arena last night, though, Mo Farah can lay claim to being the greatest.
The slip of a 29-year-old is certainly the finest male British distance runner of all time and the best in the world at present. In the opinion of no less an authority than Sebastian Coe, however, he should now be regarded as the greatest British track and field Olympian of all-time.
Nobody in the delirious 80,000 crowd was advancing a counter-argument last night. Just like the Lightning Bolt in the individual sprints, Britain's very own running phenomenon struck for a second time at the Games of the XXX Olympiad.
When it came to the home straight in the 5,000m final, with what seemed like half the world gathering at his shoulder ready to pounce, the Fly Mo shifted into top gear and cut the opposition to shreds.
First Thomas Longosiwa of Kenya and then Dejen Gebremeskel of Ethiopia attempted to overtake, but the mighty Mo resisted them both, surging forward into the annals of history. The place erupted as Farah crossed the line 0.32sec ahead of Gebremeskel. The time, a pedestrian 13min 41.66sec, was an irrelevance. The achievement was anything but. Farah dropped to the track and performed some sit-ups as the sound of David Bowie blasting over the public address system. A hero just for one day? For the rest of his life, more like.
Just like the planet's pre-eminent sprinter, the new British king of distance running – winner of the 10,000m final seven days previously – entered the record books as a legend in his own right. In the 116 years of the modern Olympic Games, only six men had ever completed the 5,000m and 10,000m double: Hannes Kolehmainenen (1912), Emil Zatopek (1952), Vladimir Kuts (1956), Lasse Viren (1972 and 1976), Miruts Yifter (1980) and Kenenisa Bekele (2008).
Now a Briton is the seventh – the magnificent seventh. "It's just unbelievable," Farah said. "I knew I just had to hold on at the end. I couldn't have done it without the crowd. The noise they made when I came off the bend was like when there's a goal at the Emirates.
"These two medals are for my two girls that are coming," he added, referring to the twins his wife Tania is carrying. "They're not born yet, hopefully. There's one for each."
The delivery of the second golden birth gift came after something of a pregnant pause. The 12-and-a-half-lap race did not begin in earnest until four laps to go. Farah started at the very back of the 15-man field as his rivals set off at a dawdle. After 1,000 metres he moved from the back to the very front but without injecting any meaningful pace.
It was all part of the phoney war. Only when the final mile was entered did the real battle commence. The Ethiopians Yenew Alamirew and Gebremeskel were prominent as the pace upped significantly.
Farah maintained perfect positioning all through the race and with 500 metres to go he and Galen Rupp, his American training partner, led the way. At the bell Longosiwa tried to force his way past but Farah held his ground. He continued to do so all the way to the line – even when the Kenyan and Gebremeskel applied severe pressure.
Chants of "Mo! Mo! Mo!" rang around the arena and Farah performed his "Mobot" celebration routine. Bolt did the same in a respectful nod to a fellow great as he carried the Jamaican baton across the line in world record time in the 4 x 100m relay final that was to follow. "Usain Bolt is a legend," Farah said. "For him to do the Mobot when he's going across breaking a world record is unbelievable."
It was the fourth gold of the Games for Britain in the athletics arena but the team are destined (barring a miracle in the men's marathon today) to finish two gongs short of their overall target of eight medals.
The talk of the track last night was that head coach Charles van Commenee would follow through with his pledge to resign as head coach rather than try to hold on to it by the gold difference.
There was a time, believe it or not, when Midas Mo was in danger of squandering his world-beating talent. He was known as a party animal, on one occasion jumping naked into the Thames from Kingston Bridge. At the Beijing Olympics in 2008 he was knocked out in the 5,000m heats.
Four years on, he has got his reward for knuckling down to hard graft. "It has been a long journey," the double Olympic champ reflected. "I have been grafting and grafting for this. It hasn't been easy but it's all been worth it."
Olympic long-distance magnificent seven
Mo Farah last night became the seventh man to achieve the feat of winning both 5,000m and 10,000m in the same Olympics. He also became the first Brit to win two individual gold medals at this Olympics.
The full list of men to have won both 5,000m and 10,000m at the same Olympics reads:
2012 Mo Farah (Great Britain)
2008 Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia)
1980 Miruts Yifter (Ethiopia)
1972 & 1976 Lasse Viren (Finland)
1956 Vladimir Kuts (Soviet Union)
1952 Emil Zatopek (Czechoslovakia)
1912 Hannes Kolehmainen (Finland)Reuse content