The world is at Farah's feet as guru helps him go the distance

Wily Storey is a perfect guide as British golden boy targets outdoor medals, writes Simon Turnbull

Sunday 15 March 2009 01:00

Four days on from the completion of European Indoor Championships business in Turin and Dwain Chambers was still hogging headlines. Not that there was anything new about the sprinter's supposed renewal of acquaintance with Victor Conte, Chambers and the man behind the Balco drugs scandal having both spoken publicly over the past 13 months about their continued association. Still, it all helped to keep Britain's other gold medal-winner from Turin firmly in the shade.

On Thursday morning, Mo Farah was quietly getting on with his life as the European indoor 3,000m champion, putting a group of teenage runners through their paces at a coaching "masterclass" at Bushy Park in south-west London before packing his bags in preparation for another training trip to East Africa.

The spells that Farah spent at high altitude in Ethiopia and Kenya either side of Christmas undoubtedly laid the foundations for the stunning form the former Somali refugee produced in the indoor season, culminating in the twin peaks of his 7min 34.47sec British record 3,000m run in Birmingham on 21 February and his superbly executed victory in Turin eight days ago.

The cornerstone behind Farah's success story, however, has been Alan Storey, the great British guru of distance running. Storey is the man who has been helping Farah realise his potential this winter.

It remains to be seen whether he can get his gifted charge all the way to the Olympic medal podium, in the London Games of 2012 or beyond, but Storey has achieved the feat before. On more than one occasion.

Back in 1984, he guided Mike McLeod to 10,000m silver at the Los Angeles Olympics. Four years later, he helped Mark Rowland to 3,000m steeplechase bronze in Seoul. And in the Sydney Games in 2000, Storey was the coach behind Sonia O'Sullivan's silver medal in the 5,000m. He also masterminded O'Sullivan's board-sweeping run of successes in 1998, when the woman from Cobh won the long-course and short-course races at the World Cross Country Champ-ionships in Marrakech and completed a 5,000m/10,000m double at the European Championships in Budapest.

Hugh Jones's London Marathon victory of 1982 and Allister Hutton's of 1990 were also Storey-inspired. Ditto Jon Solly's Commonwealth Games 10,000m win and Mark Nenow's US record-breaking 10,000m run, both in 1986. What the 62-year-old Londoner does not know about the complex-ities of distance running could be etched on to a pinhead. A 2hr 32min marathon runner in his younger days, Storey has been Britain's national marathon coach, the race director and general manager of the London marathon, and has worked as an adviser to the Chinese Athletics Federation on long-distance and marathon running. Until last autumn, he was UK Athletics' performance manager for endurance events. Now in retirement from professional coaching and setting up a business "unrelated to athletics", Storey says he will continue to coach Farah for "as long as he wants me to coach him".

His charge's indoor form might have come as a revelation to the track-watching world – a big step up from Farah's European 5,000m silver-medal run in Gothenburg in 2006 and his sixth place in the 5,000m final at the World Championships in Osaka in 2007 – but it was no surprise to Storey. Farah, he says, was in similar shape last summer until he overcooked his altitude training in St Moritz, with the coach not around to spot the danger signs because of work commitments.

Still, having suffered the disappointment of failing to make the Olympic final in Beijing, Farah is now showing tangible signs in the competitive arena of closing in on Dave Moorcroft's ancient British (and former world) record and the 13-minute mark for 5,000m. Farah's 3,000m time in Birmingham last month, 7min 34.47sec, set on an indoor 200m track with its tight turns, compares favourably with the British outdoor record for that distance, 7:32.79, that Moorcroft clocked at Crystal Palace 10 days after his 13min 00.42sec 5,000m run in Oslo in July 1982.

"Mo was training regularly last summer with people who ran sub-13 minutes and he knew he wasn't a million miles away from them," Storey says. "If he's in the right race on the right day it'll happen, but championships are more important in the general scheme of things. And sometimes trying to run really fast in one of the grand prix events and then produce your best performance in a championship is not naturally compatible.

"A few years ago Craig Mottram [of Australia] ran under 13 minutes before the World Championships and all that did was take away a little bit of his hunger to run really well in the championships. It also told other people where he was at. So running quick before championships is not always ideal." So don't expect an all-out attack on the clock before the World Championships in Berlin in August.

But do expect the wily Storey to steadily tease the best out of his 25-year-old charge in much the same manner he did with McLeod, whom he transformed from an erratic young Tyneside club runner with tearaway tendencies into a diligent, world-class distance runner blessed with a fearsome sprint finish (and the nickname "Mick the Kick"). Once upon a time Farah had a penchant for partying, jumping naked into the Thames off Kingston Bridge on one occasion. These days, he prefers to follow a more sober approach.

"When you train as hard as Mo does you have to be pretty sensible most of the time," Storey says. "Having spent so much time with African athletes, he's picked up some of the traits that they display. He does lead a slightly different lifestyle now and he's become comfortable with it. It would have been boring as hell to him two or three years ago, but now he realises it's what's needed."

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