Two nations hold their breath as Mo Farah goes for double
ATHLETICS 5,000M PREVIEW:THE TINY homestead lies deep in the savanna, far from any road; tyre marks in the dirt offer the only trail. Nearby, a cow and a donkey drag a wooden plough in uneasy tandem. Looking on is Faisal Farah, who has receding short hair, two prominent yellowing front teeth – and a blue jacket that says “Team GB”.
Today Faisal will walk four miles to Wajale, the nearest village with electricity, to watch his brother Mo race for a second Olympic gold in the 5,000m.
Their mother, Amran, who has remained in rural Somaliland despite Mo’s success abroad, will be with him in the crowd around the TV, just as she was for the 10,000m final last weekend.
“When he won, I exploded like a bomb!” says Faisal, a farmer who, at 37, is eight years Mo’s senior. “I ran out in the streets shouting.There were a lot of people delighted and cheering. I celebrated and gave people gifts of khat [a bitter-tasting leaf] and meat.”
Mo will run for Britain in the 5,000m, but Somalis will be watching just as closely, claiming him as their local hero. The runner was born in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, and his family lives in the semi-autonomous Somaliland region, where Mo returns about once a year to widespread adulation. Locals speak admiringly of him visiting orphanages and refugee camps and setting up a charity. Faisal says Mo has built two houses for the family.
Mo is the fourth of eight children, according to Faisal, who is the eldest. Faisal lives far off the beaten track, close to the Ethiopian border, and a world away from the lights and noise and logos of the Olympic Stadium.
Visitors are advised to travel with armed guards, following a road lined with abandoned petrol stations and a sign offering assurance that the area has been de-mined. The final part of the journey requires a Land Cruiser to bump and skid through bushy terrain and muddy quagmires.
Faisal, who must trek to Wajale every time he wants to charge his phone, leans against a tractor and reminisces about looking out for his younger brother when they were growing up.
“Mo was always interested in sport: football and athletics,” he says. “He always ran in the streets as a child. He was very smiley and happy all the time. We played together, we walked together. We played football and sometimes we raced but he was faster than me. He was a dynamo.”
Watching Mo’s Olympic glory in London, he feels no sibling rivalry, he insists. “It is as if I myself am running, so I cannot be jealous of him.”
Their father was a businessman and the family lived comfortably in a substantial stone house. But Somalia was sliding towards two decades of civil war.
“People in our neighbourhood died or were injured because, like us, they originally came from Somaliland,” recalls Faisal. “I remember gunfire and explosions, often targeted at us. I don’t like it when the memories come back. I try not to remember.”