Golden Mo Farah does his talking on track but suspicion will not go away
Surprise 1,500m winner, USA’s Matthew Centrowitz, also coached by Alberto Salazar
Britain’s Mo Farah completed a double-double after he added the 5,000m gold to his 10,000m success in Rio. Photograph: Afp
Rarely in Olympic history were two gold medal distance runners rolled into the press conference room having already done so much talking on the track.
Mo Farah - winning his fourth Olympic gold, only the second ever 5,000m-10,000m double-double after Lasse Viren, another unbreakable display of dominance from the British man.
Matthew Centrowitz - America’s first gold medallist in the 1,500m in 108 years, winning from the front, his searing last lap burning off all the opposition.
What else was left to say?
Quite a bit, actually - starting with the fact they both share the American distance running coach Alberto Salazar, who has in the past faced various doping allegations, none resulting in a ban, although the trail of suspicion runs deep.
The first question to Farah was actually how he describes his relationship with Salazar, given he appears to have had a more hands-off approach in Rio - only briefly talking with Farah after his 10,000m last Saturday.
“It’s no secret what I do”, started Farah, the conference delayed until close to 1.0am as he was delayed, with some gentle irony, in anti-doping control.
“I spend six months away from home, training abroad, so it depends on what time of the year. For this year, for example, I started off the year in January, in Ethiopia, then after that I was in Flagstaff, and after that into Font Romeu, in Europe, because I was on the European circuit.
“So yeah, I’m still in touch with Alberto, he sends the sessions and stuff, so it’s normal.”
Not long after, that the issue of his relationship Jama Aden came up again, the Somalian-born, Ethiopian-based coach whose arrest by Spanish police in June for possessing an array of performance enhancing drugs has since left him under house arrest in Spain.
Following that arrest, British Athletics claimed that Aden had worked as an “unofficial facilitator” for Farah in 2015, but all he had done was “hold a stopwatch”; however, around the same time, a picture emerged of Farah sitting alongside Aden while training in Ethiopia earlier this year. Aden’s daughter has also suggested via social media they’re “good friends”.
In this instance, Farah simply repeated much of what he said last Saturday: “There are so many people on the circuit, so if people come up and ask a picture, are you going to say no. I have no association with him.”
When pressed on the issue, and other claims that Aden had been described as a “close friend”, Farah got a bit more defensive: “He’s not a close friend of mine. Obviously I see him on the circuit, say hi. I’ve got a lot of respect for everyone in the circuit, it’s a small circuit, and everyone knows each other.”
Still he was pressed further to clarify.
“He’s not a friend of mine. I’ve been competing since I was 12 years old, and you can’t lie about it. You see people on the circuit, you see coaches, and that’s all it is. I don’t know why you’re making a big deal out of it. I’d totally understand if he was my coach, or someone I was so close with, fair enough, but I’m not close with him. I see him on the circuit, take pictures with him, does that make me a bad guy?
“I never want to see anything bad in my sport, but we just have to continue winning, and having faith. What we’re doing now is good, we’re doing blood, urine, whatever it takes, it’s a good thing.”
As for the race - which leaves Farah with four Olympic golds, more than the likes Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele - it once again played into his hands. The Ethiopian pair of Dejen Gebremeskel and Hagos Gebrhiwet tried to run the legs off Farah, who instead moved to the front with five laps to go, and simply held everyone off - winning in 13:03.30, with the American Paul Chelimo picking off Gebrhiwet for silver.
So to Centrowitz, America’s first 1,500m gold medallist since Mel Sheppard in London 1908, although amazingly not a whole lot slower, his 3:50.00 actually the slowest time since 1932.
Centrowitz did come with some credentials, a two-time World championships medallist (bronze in 2011, silver in 2013) yet still seemed well surprised himself at the manner of his win, his 50.62 last lap enough to hold off defending champion Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi, with Nick Willis from New Zealand running a brilliant race to snatch third, having won silver eight years ago.
Centrowitz also trains under Salazar, at the Nike Oregon Project (which means he’s now responsible for the winners of the men’s 1,500m, 5,000m, and 10,000m), although the subject of their relationship wasn’t explored in any detail.
“There’s nothing like it,” said Centrowitz. “It doesn’t compare to anything else I’ve won in my life. Doing my victory lap, I literally kept screaming to everyone I know ‘are you kidding me?’
“I’m just so proud to win this medal for my country, making a bit of history like that along the way.”
Makhloufi, however, has in the past being coached by Aden, suggesting he now preferred to work with a new coach “who paid him more attention” .
The rest of the talking, at least for now, had been left on the track.