Farah poised to sign off in usual victorious style
Most successful British athlete of all time can’t quite shake off suspicions of doping
Mo Farah: vowed he will be ready for the 5,000 metres final. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Rarely if ever has an athlete been running in a major championship final where he might actually be better served not by victory but defeat.
Not that Mo Farah will for one second be thinking that way – and yet for all his breathtaking and unbreakable displays of championship distance running, he still can’t escape the shadow of doping and some of the hard questions that come with it.
Defeat might well offer some brief respite; victory appears as certain as ever.
And should he complete a fifth consecutive distance running double inside the London Olympic Stadium on Saturday night – and there is little to suggest he won’t add another 5,000m title to go with the 10,000m he won last Friday – Farah will further extend his status as the single most decorated athlete in British athletics history.
His enduring popularity within the stadium, and the fact it’s his last track race, should certainly reflect that; although outside things are not quite so black and white. Because Farah’s popularity outside of that athletic fan base has never reached such adoring heights and is possibly one of the reasons he has yet to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Farah also finds himself in the slightly uncomfortable position of being Britain’s only medal winner of any colour at these World Championships so far, heading into the two final days.
Though largely raised with the British athletics system, Farah was of course born in Somalia, and since 2010 has been living and (mostly) training in the US under American distance running coach Alberto Salazar.
This is also coming against the backdrop of British Athletics publicly declaring ambitions of winning between six to eight medals at these championships, especially after Britain’s so-called legacy of London 2012, where they won 11 medals in track and field.
That Salazar connection, however, is what continues to open Farah achievements and indeed popularity to question.
US Anti-Doping Agency continues to investigate Salazar’s methods of training at the Nike Oregon Project, which Farah joined towards the end of 2010, just when his form on the global stage appeared to be dipping. It was to be a strictly American project, until towards the end of 2010, Salazar was first approached by Farah.
And the numbers are worth repeating: at the start of the 2011 season, just a few months after moving to Oregon, Farah lowered the British 10,000m to 26:46.57, knocking 43 seconds off his pre-Salazar best; Farah promptly followed that with a new British 5,000m record of 12:53.11; and in 2013, he improved his pre-Salazar best over 1,500m by almost six seconds, running another British record of 3:28.81.
There is also his still not entirely cleared up connection with another man of some disrepute, Jama Aden, the Somalian-born, Ethiopian-based coach who was arrested by Spanish police last summer for possessing an array of performance enhancing drugs.
Now aged 34, old though certainly not ancient, Farah’s improvements have unquestionably coincided with his move to Salazar. Farah’s decision to avoid all proper media engagements since his 10,000m win last Friday haven’t helped either, inviting only a select group of journalists, including Brendan Foster of the BBC, to meet him the following day.
In 2015 it also emerged he missed two drugs tests, one in 2010 and another in 2011, and Farah has never fully explained those either, beyond claiming he didn’t hear the testers ringing his doorbell.
Documents leaked by the Russian hackers Fancy Bears in July included Farah’s name in a list of athletes flagged by the IAAF for suspicious biological passports: “Likely doping,” read the notation from a test on Farah dated November 23rd, 2015; a second leaked database, attached to an email dated April 2016, then record Farah’s test as “now flagged as normal”.
Yet when the Fancy Bears leaks were put to Farah by members of the British press Farah claimed “you guys just make something out of nothing” and that “I will never fail a drugs test”.
On the eve of this race, reports also emerged that Kenyan runner Frederick Lemishen Ngoyoni, who last year appeared in a German TV documentary about doping in Kenya, when caught buying EPO, acted as one of Farah’s training partners in 2013.
For now, naturally, he is concentrating on completing his latest distance double – and truth is Farah has only lost one of his 23 races at 5,000m since moving to Salazar (that’s when he was sick, at 2013 Pre Classic in Eugene): indeed he hasn’t lost a major championship race on the track since the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, when he was gunned down in the closing strides of the 10,000m by Ethiopia’s Ibrahim Jeilan, after what looked like a slight tactical miscalculation more than anything else.
Farah came back to win the 5,000m later in the week, before successfully doubling in the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, and again two years ago in Beijing.
Last Friday night, he produced another bold if not ballsy display in the 10,000m, allowing each of his rivals to throw whatever they had at him, riding each wave of surge and counter surge with utter fearlessness, until Farah once again hit the finish line first.
He very nearly fell over himself too with 300m to run – yet held his nerve and ultimately devastating kick to win in 26:49.53, the fastest time in the world this year. Relinquished in the minor places yet again were the best of the rest, Joshua Cheptegei from Uganda winning silver in 26:49.94, Kenya’s Paul Tanui third in 26:50. That was his sixth World gold medal, already more than any other British athlete.
Farah goes into Saturday’s final only ranked third fastest in the 5,000m, behing Muktar Edris of Ethiopia (12:55.23) and his fellow country man Selemon Barega (12:55.58); Farah’s best this season is 13:00.70.
The third Ethiopan, and World Indoor champion Yomif Kejelcha will also fancy his fancy his chances, as will the American Paul Chelimo, the Olympic silver medallist from Rio.
All world class athletes, in other words, and yet if Farah once again beats them he won’t just be cementing his greatness, but opening himself to yet further scrutiny of it.
Men’s 5,000m final: Saturday, 8.20pm