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

expects.

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

Mohamed.”

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

anything.”

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

said.

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

difference.”

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