Column: Gold-chaser Farah escapes Olympic buzz
Farewell London. Hello Portland, Oregon.
Mo Farah has left his world behind so he can focus on his
Olympic rendezvous this August. Family, friends, the London
football club – Arsenal – he adores are thousands of miles and many
time zones away, a self-imposed exile which suits the 5,000-meter
world champion just fine.
”In America, here, you just train, you just eat, train, and
just get on with training,” Farah says. ”It worked out well, to
be away from everything else, and I can just concentrate on my
running and be away from all the media and everything else.”
For ”everything else,” read ”great expectations.” Farah goes
to the London Olympics as one of Britain’s brightest stars. The
Olympic host nation welcomed him when he was a skinny boy from
Somalia with very little command of English. Now it is looking to
him for at least one medal, ideally gold. There’ll likely be
consternation and mourning if he doesn’t produce one. England
It’s pressure Farah is doing his best to ignore. So determined
is he to avoid energy-sapping distractions and not get swept up by
the Olympic excitement building in Britain that he plans to do no
more interviews before the games unless obligated. A 20-minute chat
on a scratchy trans-Atlantic telephone line with The Associated
Press was scheduled to be his last.
”It’s great to have the Olympics right on our doorstep and it’s
just important that you take that advantage and I’m looking forward
to it,” Farah said. ”But at the same time, I’m not putting a lot
of pressure on myself. I think there’s a lot of pressure from
everything else but as long as you don’t put pressure on yourself,
I believe there’s no pressure.”
”I just want to be able to concentrate on my running and that’s
it. I don’t want to be able to miss training or miss my sleep in
the afternoon or make time,” he said. ”What got me here is my
running and it’s important that I do 100 percent concentrate on my
running, on rest and sleep.”
Farah’s father, Muktar, was born in London and had his son join
him when he was age 8. Mo is short for Mohamed.
”Some people go, ‘Mo, Mo, what’s Mo … Morris?”’ he said.
”For the TV people, it’s kind of easier to say Mo than
After his win in the 5,000 and silver in the 10,000 last year at
the worlds in Daegu, South Korea, Farah took his wife, Tania, and
their daughter on their first visit to Somalia. The poverty they
saw there jolted them to start the charitable Mo Farah Foundation
to build wells and supply food.
”We were like, ‘We’ve got to do something,”’ he said. ”Them
kids haven’t got nothing to eat, haven’t got clean water or
Like other Muslim athletes, Farah will face a challenge in that
the London Olympics will coincide with Ramadan, the annual Islamic
holy month of dawn-to-dusk fasting. Farah didn’t want to discuss
whether he, too, will fast. He would only say that it shouldn’t
hurt his racing.
”It shouldn’t do. As an athlete, I’ve done it in the past,” he
Britain has had Olympic success in middle-distance running.
London Games organizer Sebastian Coe won the 1,500 gold at the 1980
Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. But no British man or woman
has been Olympic champion in either the 5,000 and 10,000.
Farah not only could be the first, but is eyeing a chance to win
both races. The 10,000 is Aug. 4. After that, he plans to see how
he feels about doubling up. The first round of the 5,000 is Aug. 8,
with the final three days later.
He’ll have to run more intelligently than in Daegu. In the
10,000, Farah powered away on the final lap only to be reeled back
on the last straight by the winner Ibrahim Jeilan, who had the
faster sprint-finish. Farah’s sideways, openmouthed look of
helpless desperation as the Ethiopian clawed past him 30 meters out
produced some dramatic photos.
Consolation for Farah came a week later with his world title in
the 5,000. In London, Farah will have to avoid mistakes. To get him
there in tiptop shape, Farah is leaning on the coach he left London
last year to be with, Alberto Salazar. Salazar won three
consecutive New York City marathons from 1980-1982 and is the
brains behind an Oregon-based project to develop runners who can
challenge Ethiopia and Kenya’s hold over distance events.
Salazar is a proponent of high-tech training gizmos. Farah
sometimes sleeps in a tent that mimics the effects of living at
altitude to boost performance and uses underwater treadmills meant
to allow athletes to train longer and harder with less risk of
injury. He also goes to Kenya to train at altitude.
”The reason why I’ve changed from my old coach and moved to the
other side of the world is like I’ve been there as an athlete,
coming sixth and seventh and I just wanted to make a 1 or 2 percent
difference,” Farah said.
”The last couple of years, I’ve been sort of behind the medal –
half a second, a second, a second and a half – and this year I’ve
been pretty much sort of just there, literally like winning, and
I’ve won by a second or a second and a half. That’s been the
But the word that really springs to mind to describe Farah is
dedication. Over the phone, he sounds almost monkish in his pursuit
of Olympic success.
”I’m training. I’m 100 percent heads down. I’m going away to
high-altitude training, the camps, I’m not even hardly around my
family,” he said. ”I’m away from everything.”
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The
Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow
him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester