Briton returns to the scene of his ultimate low-point in 2008 to produce a commanding victory over 25 laps at the IAAF World Championships
In 2008 Mo Farah suffered one of the biggest disappointments of his life when he failed to make the Olympic 5000m final in Beijing. Aged 25, the Briton stood at a crossroads and could easily have drifted into mediocrity. But instead he buckled down, trained harder and smarter than ever and this weekend he returned to the same Chinese city to win his second world 10,000m title and fourth world championship gold medal in total.
Brushing off a spirited challenge from a Kenyan trio led by world cross country champion Geoffrey Kamworor, Farah closed in with a 54-second last 400m and 1:56 final 800m to win with aplomb. In doing so, he laid the ghosts of Beijing 2008 to bed in style and confirmed his status as the world’s No.1 long distance track runner.
Seven years have passed since his ultimate low point at the 2008 Games. Now 32, the Briton is older and wiser. His travails over the marathon and half-marathon distance, plus countless weeks churning out the miles in Oregon or at altitude, have armed him with massive reserves of stamina. Olympic titles in London and world titles in Daegu and Moscow have left him brimming with confidence. Coach Alberto Salazar has honed his technique and strength in the gym to give him unbeatable speed for the business end of each race.
Such is his transformation since the nadir of 2008, he clocked 13:50 when finishing sixth in his heat back then, but in the same arena this weekend he coasted through the first half of the 10,000m final in 13:40 before a second half split of 13:21 took him to gold in 27:01.13 ahead of Kamworor’s 27:01.76 with Paul Tanui in third, Bedan Muchiri fourth and Galen Rupp fifth.
His own hard work aside, much credit for his improvement is down to Salazar. Although that remains a thorny topic during a tumultuous summer that has seen the American coach accused of breaking anti-doping rules. As one of his athletes, Farah has been drawn into the media storm – despite never having broken any rules himself – but he has refused to be sidetracked by the controversy and maintained his focus firmly on Beijing in recent weeks.
“I just need to let my running do the talking and keep winning medals,” he said to the BBC on Saturday. “I want to be remembered as someone who did something for my country and I’m very thankful to all my supporters out there. I wish my family was here to watch me, but my wife is expecting again and so this win is for my unborn child.”
Farah was braced for a grueling race with the Kenyans promising to test the Briton with a fierce pace. It was tough in the heat and with two miles to go the only runners in contention were the trio of Kenyans, Farah and his training partner and Olympic silver medallist Rupp.
Yet the pace was not savage enough to truly test Farah to the hilt and the defending champion went to the front once or twice with several laps to go, only to see Kamworor surge back into pole position, before hitting the front for the decisive time with 500m to go.
Even then it was not straightforward for the Briton as a number of lapped athletes got in the way and Farah found himself clipped in the melee with 300m to go. “I nearly went down three or four times,” he revealed. “When you have a long stride like I do, it’s easier for your legs to get clipped.”
The Kenyan front-running tactics, however, were no surprise. “I knew the guys were going to do that,” he said. “For too many years now they have left it too slow. So I was hanging in there and hoping it would not take it out of me too much. It’s not easy to run 27 minutes in this heat. Now I need to recover and get ready for the heats of the 5000m.”
There he will face Caleb Ndiku from Kenya and Ethiopians such as Hagos Gebrhiwet, who beat Farah earlier this year in Doha over 3000m. Farah does not look vulnerable, though, and will be favourite to nail a “double double” of world championship track golds.
“I just need to let my running do the talking and keep winning medals,” he said.
His success put Britain joint top of the medals table with Eritrea, after their men’s marathon win earlier in the day, and Germany, who took the women’s shot put thanks to Christina Schwanitz.
Schwanitz threw 20.37m to beat Lijiao Gong of China by 7cm to win the shot title as the IAAF World Championships got off to a lively and entertaining start.
The finals aside, most attention fell on the blue ribbon men’s 100m with Justin Gatlin leading the 100m qualifiers ahead of Sunday’s semi-finals and final. The American ran an effortless-looking 9.83 but world record-holder and defending champion Usain Bolt did not look as sharp as he won his heat in 9.96 ahead of Mike Rodgers.
Trayvon Bromell of the United States was the second fastest qualifier with 9.91, while Frenchman Jimmy Vicaut ran 9.92, Jamaican Asafa Powell 9.95 and Tyson Gay ran 10.11 to win his heat into a slight headwind.
Race rusty after an injury-hit build-up, Richard Kilty finished fourth in his heat in 10.12 behind heat winner Femi Ogunode of Qatar who ran 9.99. Kilty’s GB team-mate James Dasaolu fared even worse with 10.13 to also finish fourth in Vicaut’s heat. It meant Kilty squeezed through to the semi-finals but European champion Dasaolu was knocked out. CJ Ujah also progressed after finishing second behind Bromell in 10.05.
In the 400m hurdles heats, defending champion Jehue Gordon of Trinidad and 2005 champion and 2015 world leader Bershawn Jackson of the United States both finished seventh in their heats. Britain’s Niall Flannery did progress, though, finishing runner-up to American Kerron Clement in his heat in a season’s best 48.90.
In the men’s pole vault, Renaud Lavillenie of France was one of several athletes to lead the qualifying with 5.70m but Britain’s Steve Lewis went out after three failures at 5.55m after earlier clearing 5.40m.
World No.1 and reigning champion Caterine Ibarguen of Colombia eased through triple jump qualifying with 14.42m. She will be joined in the final by 2012 Olympic champion Olga Rypakova of Kazhakstan and 2011 winner Olga Saladukha of Ukraine.
A round-up of the first day of the heptathlon, featuring Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson, can be found here.
» More coverage in the August 27 issue of Athletics Weekly