From sheer panic to a place in history, Farah joins greats
Briton feared worst after fall but is now ready to take on his toughest test yet with 5,000 defence
In the blink of an eye, the rogue flick of a toe and the crash of a double Olympic champion thudding into the ground, Mo Farah feared his dreams were over.
It was just before the halfway stage of the 10,000m final on Saturday night that Farah, unaware of those behind him, felt his heel clipped and hit the deck.
“There was a lot of panic in my mind when I fell,” he said, relaxing the morning after with sunglasses perched on his freshly shaven head in the Rio sunshine. “I thought, ‘Oh God where am I.’ As I went I was thinking, ‘No, no, this can’t be happening’. The heart was beating madly. In that split-second I thought four years had gone and it wasn’t in my control.”
It was the type of moment that haunts a professional athlete in their sleep. After hundreds of training sessions, months away from his family and thousands upon thousands of miles run, everything Farah had worked so hard for threatened to disappear in an instant.
But as quickly as the fears arose, they slipped away. Galen Rupp, his American team-mate who had been the cause of the contact, slowed to check everything was alright, Farah hauled himself up off the lurid blue track and went on win – making history as the first British track and field athlete to win three gold medals. Trouble, what trouble?
Search on YouTube and you will be able to find a horribly grainy video of a remarkably similar incident involving a remarkably similar athlete in a remarkably similar race. Lasse Viren, the only man to have successfully won a ‘double-double’ of Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m, was almost exactly the same distance through his opening race at the 1972 Munich Games when he fell just as Farah did.
Like Farah, he dragged himself up and went on to claim the first of four Olympic titles.
“I’ve heard of him,” said Farah, when asked about the Flying Finn’s feats four decades ago. “But I’m too young to know much about it. It sounds like he’s pretty good.” Farah is not a man with much appetite for introspection. Ask if he considers himself as one of the all-time great distance runners and he avoids the question. It is up to other people to make that decision, he says.
Favourite to retain his 5,000m title this weekend and match Viren’s achievement, there should be no doubt that he belongs up there with the best in history. And yet there is.
Ever since the moment that his coach Alberto Salazar was accused of doping offences last summer, Farah has, in his own words, “had my name dragged through the mud”.
Soon after, it emerged that he had missed two drugs tests in the run-up to London 2012 and when Jama Aden, a Somalian middle distance coach, was arrested on suspicion of possessing performanceenhancing drugs a couple of months ago, Farah was forced to explain multiple photos showing the two men alongside each other. That British Athletics admitted Aden had acted as an “unofficial facilitator” for some of Farah’s training sessions did not help matters.
Asked again about his association with Aden, Farah insisted he cannot police every person he is photographed with. Instead he urged people to believe him when he says he has never cheated.
“It’s difficult for me because I am an honest guy,” he said. “I try to be honest in everything I do.
“The media have made it hard for me in the last year, nailing me for everything I do. It’s been really tough on me.
“We should be able to enjoy our sport and enjoy this moment because my career is short.” At a time when more people are being caught doping than ever before, there can be no apologies for a level of wariness, with even Farah describing Ethiopian Almaz Ayana’s 10,000m world record last week as “crazy”.
Whether Farah will ever have the full support of a nation that thrives on cynicism is uncertain, but a gold on Saturday will give him breathing space at the top of the list of British athletics champions.
Having already achieved the 5,000/10,000m double in London, Farah is on familiar territory as he attempts to replicate the feat, although he suggests it will be the hardest test of his career.
“It will be harder than London – a lot harder,” he said, explaining that, at 33, he feels the effects of his exertions more now than ever before.
“Even in my training there are certain days where I’m supposed to do a session but my body doesn’t allow me to do it, so I have to wait for another day. Or I’ll talk to the coaches and say I’m feeling a bit tired and cut my session down a bit. You’ve just got to be smart.”
Flashpoint: Mo Farah feared his dream was over when he fell during the 10,000m final - but got up and won