African dominance is a numbers game, says Alberto Salazar

Coach of Mo Farah and Galen Rupp spoke to David Cox about what the duo need to do to stay ahead of the Africans

Posted on May 10, 2013 by
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Salazar with Farah at New Orleans Half 2013 (Victah Sailer)

Ethiopia and Kenya have established such a stranglehold over distance running over the past two decades, it’s almost become accepted that they enjoy some kind of genetic advantage.

Before Mo Farah and Galen Rupp did the one-two in London last August you had to wind the clock back to the Los Angeles Games of 1984 to find the last time African athletes did not finish in the top two medal positions in the 10,000m.

Alberto Salazar – the man who transformed British double Olympic champion Farah and American Olympic silver medallist Rupp from being the best in their countries to genuine world-beaters – has long believed those theories belong in the trash. He feels that, outside of Africa, distance running has suffered as a result of a psychological block against the Ethiopians and Kenyans.

“It’s been a hindrance for sure,” he says. “Since the Eighties, the Africans came on so strong for a lot of different reasons. And not only did the Kenyans and Ethiopians get better, but the rest of the world got worse and as a result, the margin between us just became huge. And people just gave up I think. They just said, ‘The Kenyans, the Ethiopians – they live at altitude, they’re bred at altitude, blah, blah, blah. We can never compete with them’.

“This is what I believe. I believe it’s a numbers game. There are a tremendous number of unbelievably talented great Kenyans trying to become professional runners and with running to school back and forth just as a means of locomotion, they’ve got a tremendous training background behind them before they even got in to competitive running.

“So they’ve got this headstart on you. And now I believe that the only way for Europeans and Americans to compete with them with our much lesser numbers of such talented runners, is that we gotta do everything perfect.”

So that is what he is doing. Salazar’s results with Farah and Rupp have seen him become the most sought-after distance running coach in the world. He knows the weekly mileage that some of Farah and Rupp’s competitors rack up is not sustainable long-term, so is focussed on matching that in different ways.

“Do we have Mo and Galen run 170 miles a week? Of course not – there’s an 80% chance that anyone doing that would get injured.

“So what we try and do is do everything else perfect so that the differences in muscular power, strength and co-ordination that we get with our strength training, allows them to cut that gap in terms of the miles and the crazy workouts.

“Their better biomechanics allows them to pick up seconds, better racing tactics, better finishing speed. That’s how I feel, we’ve just got a couple of diamonds and we’ve got to polish them perfectly to compete against the tons of raw diamonds coming out of Kenya.

“That’s the only way we can make it because we don’t have the pool that they have.”

» This is an extract from a three-page interview with Alberto Salazar in the May 9 issue of AW, which is available here

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