Mo Farah’s meteoric rise demonstates to everyone – from would-be internationals to humble club runners – that amazing results are possible with hard work and application
There are some moments in athletics which are so special that as a journalist you make a note of every detail possible. I am talking, of course, about Mo Farah’s extraordinary 5000m victory in the London Olympics, where he completed a golden double to seal his place as an Olympic legend.
When he crossed the line it was 7:46pm on a slightly chilly Saturday night at the final session of the athletics programme in the Olympic Stadium. The trackside temperature was 19C but up in the stands – block 212, row 63 to be precise – a cold wind swirled around our laptops, occasionally whipping results sheets randomly into the air.
David Bowie’s “Heroes” blasted out from the stadium’s impressive sound system. Not that anyone could hear it, such was the incredible din from 80,000 screaming (and standing) spectators.
Even hardened hacks had a lump in their throat; a tear in their eye. For years Britain has yearned for a British male distance runner who can conquer the world and in London 2012 we have witnessed a home-grown hero winning not just one but two distance events on the track.
This was never going to be easy either. Dejen Gebremeskel, the main Ethiopian danger man, had a PB of 12:46.81 set this year, he is coached by one of Haile Gebrselassie’s former coaches, and his sprint finish is so red-hot he out-kicked Farah to win the 3000m at an indoor meet in Boston last year wearing only one shoe.
Yet he controlled the race with sublime confidence. Challenging Usain Bolt for the title of coolest athlete at the Games, he sat casually at the back during a first kilometre run at 14:35 pace, looking totally unruffled when there were minor surges at the front.
Later, he hit the front with 700m to go and with a final lap in 52.9 and the last mile in four minutes dead he held off Gebremeskel et al with aplomb to Mobot his way into the history books. The winning time was only 13:41.66, but who cared?
Farah is a bona fide superstar now and he will doubtless be the most sought-after debut marathoner in history following his double triumph in the London Olympics.
Farah aside, the achievement will act as inspiration for club runners of all ages and standards. Like Paula Radcliffe, the world marathon record-holder, he has matured from something of an also-ran on the world stage to become king of distance running.
At the last Olympics four years ago, after all, he got dunked out in the heats with a dreadful run that convinced him he had to get serious about his sport. He had plenty of other defeats as well before he began his golden streak.
He was only fifth and seventh in his early Euro Cross races as a junior, for example, and beaten by fellow Brit Chris Thompson to the European under-23 5000m title in 2003 and again by Anatoliy Rybakov in 2005.
At the 2006 Commonwealth Games 5000m he was only ninth. By this stage he was aged 22, too. Yes, it has been a long hard road for him to finally reach world and Olympic titles aged 28-29.
But he has done it, with sustained hard work, determination, the sacrifice of training abroad at monastic altitude camps, and finally the gamble of leaving a programme that was already working quite well by moving to Alberto Salazar in the United States.
As Farah said in his late-night press conference after his victory, the gold medals were down to hard work what he described simply as “grafting”. This included running 120 miles per week. “I look at my training diaries and sometimes cannot believe how much I do,” he added. Also, success was due to ”believing in myself and having great coach”.
It shows that massive improvements are possible with the right plan and the willpower to follow it through. It is one of the reasons running is so popular – if you work hard, you get results.
The first time I remember seeing Farah was at the 1999 English National Cross Country Championships in Newark near Nottingham. He won the under-17 men’s race that day and warmed down with an impromptu football kick-about in the fields while the senior races were going on.
It amazing to think the scrawny teenager from the National in 1999 is now an Olympic legend. If you are a young athlete with a bit of talent reading this (or even a haggard veteran searching for improvements), do you dare to dream as Mo Farah once did?
» Jason Henderson is covering his fourth Olympics for AW and tweets at @Jason_AW