Evidence shows Mo Farah now running in the shadow of coach Salazar

Britain’s feted Olympic champion tainted by his long association with dubious trainer

It fell in the letterbox on Thursday morning with a gently familiar thud. No, not some experimental batch of EPO ordered in from China, but the 2015 Athletics International Annual, on standing order from the IAAF offices in Monaco.

This is our bible of track and field, revised and updated every year since 1984 by the UK's master statistician, Peter Matthews. It's also our fondly essential reference book, and the 2015 edition is no exception: 608 pages of all-time and yearly performance lists, event rankings, athlete profiles, national champions, etc – plus that increasingly lengthy list of annual doping bans.

And no, the pages weren't hollowed out, with two pills taped inside, although given it arrived the morning after the BBC documentary Catch Me If You Can there was always that possibility. Because there's simply no escaping doping in athletics these days, and on a more positive note, no dodging it either.

At least that's what the BBC Panorama documentary on Wednesday night proved – if it proved anything at all.


Nothing about the Alberto Salazar revelations were even mildly surprising to anyone already familiar with the Nike Oregon Project, and its two star pupils, Mo Farah and Galen Rupp. Okay, the fact it produced evidence of Rupp being given banned anabolic steroids as far back as 2002 was mildly surprising, although not as surprising as the 26:44.36 that Rupp ran for 10,000m in May of last year – his first race of a low-key season, an American record, and two seconds faster than Farah's best.

Indeed anyone already familiar with Salazar from his former distance running days will know many of his training techniques have always been perfectly dodgy.

Born in Cuba, raised in a suburb of Boston, Salazar turned his pretty ordinary running talent into a string of major successes (including three New York Marathons).

Among the techniques he experimented with at the time was wearing a scuba-type mouthpiece, after training, which would absorb oxygen and supposedly mimic the effects of altitude training, while he also treating himself with dimethyl sulfoxide, a lotion designed to reduce swelling in racehorses.

Rift Valley

None of these techniques were banned, and for Salazar, that has always equalled a sign of approval. In 1980, to prepare for the Moscow Olympics, he was also one of the first American runners to travel to Kenya to train at the high altitudes of the Rift Valley. Unfortunately for him, the Americans boycotted Moscow, and then Salazar very probably overtrained for the 1984 Olympic marathon, in Los Angeles, finishing a distant 15th. Burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail of his own expectation, he effectively dropped off the face of the athletics world, until 2001, when he was recruited by his former sponsors to front the Nike Oregon Project – designed to bring American distance running up to the standards of the Kenyans and Ethiopians.

This was to be a strictly American project, until towards the end of 2010, Salazar was first approached by Farah: "I needed someone who had the expertise and ability to squeeze that one or two per cent more out of my running," Farah later recalled in his autobiography, Twin Ambitions. "For me, there was only one person for the job: Alberto Salazar."

It wasn’t long before Salazar started squeezing a lot more than one or two per cent out of Farah’s running. 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 (nearly five seconds faster than his pre-Salazar best), before winning the 5,000m at the 2011 World Championships Daegu, after finishing a close second in the 10,000m.

(Farah hasn’t lost a 10,000m race since - adding the 2012 Olympic and 2013 World titles, plus another wildly impressive 26:50.97, last weekend, in his adopted home at Portland, Oregon).

Breakthrough season

It was after that breakthrough season that Farah made the cover of the

2012 Athletics International Annua

l, and he’s continued to rewrite the British and all-time performance lists in the three seasons since. In 2013, he improved his pre-Salazar best over 1,500m by almost six seconds, running another British record of 3:28.81. Let’s just say that remains more than mildly surprising.

Meanwhile Farah’s credibility was beginning to be tested by his reportedly extensive list of TUE’s (the “therapeutic use exemption” of otherwise prohibited substances, a sort of sporting “sick note” for what should be the perfectly healthy athlete); there was also his strange reluctance to even acknowledge that some of Salazar’s training techniques, if not necessarily dodgy, were definitely not black and white.

Stranger still is the fact at no point in Twin Ambitions (all 371 pages of it) does Farah even hint at any doping issues in athletics; he simply puts his 2011 breakthrough down to Salazar "pushing me to breaking point, to the extent my body simply couldn't handle it – in a good way, of course". This conflicts slightly with the Farah of 2008, who blames his failure at the Beijing Olympics on "overtraining".

Banned list

Although it’s just as well caffeine is no longer on the banned list, because it’s the one thing Farah does admit to using before races, describing how, 20 minutes before his 10,000m in London, he downs not one but two espressos, and “feels this massive caffeine high come on. . . my hands, my legs, everything shaking”.

It's little wonder then that Farah is now racing against public opinion to prove he's perfectly legit – even if Catch Me If You Can never actually tripped him up. He's made the standard statement of defence by telling the BBC, in response to Wednesday's documentary, that he has "not taken any banned substance" and that "Alberto has never suggested that I take a banned substance".

He’s still down to compete over 1,500m in Birmingham tomorrow as part of the build-up to the defence of his World Championship 5,000-10,000m double in Beijing in August.

The last thing Farah can afford to do now is make drastic adjustments to his training, and yet the only way to escape this shadow of doping, or at least begin to dodge it, is to run away from Salazar.