Times not on Farah’s side in ‘great­est ever’ de­bate

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

LON­DON — Right at the last, Mo Farah’s un­beat­able air could not stand up to an­other ex­am­i­na­tion by the world’s best dis­tance run­ners as he was de­nied one fi­nal global tri­umph in his farewell cham­pi­onship track race on Satur­day.

As the Bri­ton was con­soled — and con­grat­u­lated on a stun­ning track ca­reer — by his com­peti­tors fol­low­ing his world 5,000m sil­ver medal in the stadium where his leg­end was first prop­erly sculpted in 2012, the only ques­tion that re­mained was where he stands in the an­nals of track dis­tance run­ning.

There is a pow­er­ful ar­gu­ment to say, af­ter 10 straight global cham­pi­onship vic­to­ries stretch­ing back to the 2011 world 5,000m tri­umph in Daegu, that the 34-year-old is the great­est dis­tance racer we have ever seen on the track.

De­spite his de­feat on Satur­day, his abil­ity, time and again, to fend off every chal­lenge and tac­tic thrown at him — from Ethiopian and Kenyan ath­letes gang­ing up on him to be­ing spiked and bruised in phys­i­cal races — and still sprint to vic­tory was un­prece­dented dur­ing an in­cred­i­ble six-year reign.

His abil­ity to strike for home with that long, lop­ing stride, any­where from 600 to 100 me­ters out — and then to find yet an­other gear when it seemed as if he was flat out — marked him as a truly unique tal­ent.

Yet be­ing con­sid­ered the best racer is very dif­fer­ent from be­ing seen as the great­est dis­tance ath­lete of all time.

Se­bas­tian Coe, the IAAF pres­i­dent, set the ball rolling when declar­ing in Fri­day’s Evening Stan­dard news­pa­per that Haile Ge­brse­lassie, who re­tired from all com­pe­ti­tion at the age of 42 in 2015, was the great­est.

“When it comes to the de­bate on the great­est dis­tance run­ner of all time, I’m tough on this,” said Coe, who him­self is con­sid­ered one of the finest mid­dle-dis­tance run­ners ever.

“For me, it’s not Mo Farah — and that’s not to do a dis­ser­vice to Mo, who is one of the greats of all time.

“For me that still has to be Haile Ge­brse­lassie, for the dis­tances that he cov­ered, the ti­tles he won and the world records he broke.”

In cham­pi­onship run­ning, Farah won 10 on the trot be­fore Satur­day’s set­back, com­pared with Ge­brse­lassie’s six in a row over 10,000m and Ke­nenisa Bekele’s best run of four cham­pi­onship wins in suc­ces­sion at both dis­tances.

Yet the two Ethiopian greats also went chas­ing records to ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­fect. Bekele set a to­tal of three new world marks at 5,000m and 10,000m, while Ge­brse­lassie set seven in the two events.

Farah has never been down that route, with his ca­pac­ity for re­ally fast times never ex­am­ined.

It re­mains an ex­tra­or­di­nary fact that the most suc­cess­ful cham­pi­onship run­ner ever at 5,000m with five global ti­tles, is ranked only the 31st-fastest run­ner of all time, at 12 min­utes 53.11 sec­onds. Bekele holds the world record at 12:37.35.

At 10,000m, in which Farah has also won a record five global golds, he is also still only the 16th fastest (26:46.57), nearly half a minute down on Bekele’s world record of 26:17.53.

Bekele, a year older than Farah at 35, won nine global golds, once went un­beaten for eight years in the 10,000m, won 11 world cross-coun­try ti­tles and now holds the sec­ond-fastest marathon time in his­tory (2hr 03min 03sec).

For the mo­ment, even if Ge­brse­lassie was the great Ethiopian trail­blazer, it seems fair to rank Bekele the high­est for his all-round achieve­ments on the track, coun­try and roads.

Yet Farah, who has run only one marathon, fin­ish­ing eighth in Lon­don in 2014 in a rel­a­tively mod­est 2:08:21, be­lieves he can make a big im­pact on the roads.

The most amaz­ing tale in the an­nals of Bri­tish ath­let­ics may not quite have run its course yet.

As So­ma­lia-born Farah, who ad­mit­ted to be­ing tear­ful af­ter an emo­tional night, said af­ter his race: “As I’m get­ting older, it’s get­ting a bit more chal­leng­ing and that’s the rea­son I’m go­ing to end on the track and see what I can do on the roads.

“This is end of in terms of ma­jor cham­pi­onships, I’m done.

“I’ve closed that chap­ter of my life. I want to start a new chal­lenge in my life.”

MATTHEW CHILDS / REUTERS

Mo Farah of Bri­tain cel­e­brates with his fam­ily af­ter fin­ish­ing sec­ond in the men’s 5,000m fi­nal on Satur­day.

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