Will Mo Farah depart as Britain’s greatest ever runner ?

Will Mo Farah depart as Britain’s greatest ever runner ?

The noise will say it all. The roar of 60,000 people inside the London Stadium heralding the return of Mo Farah, their hero to the grand stage for the final time.

If Mo Farah’s legendary status among the British public was not already assured by his double gold-winning exploits of London 2012, the dominance he has subsequently displayed has guaranteed it.

The stark numbers are astonishing. Should he successfully defend his world 10,000m title on Friday night, he will become the first athlete in history to win 10 consecutive global track distance titles (which may well become 11 if he then triumphs over 5,000m next week).


All available logic suggests he will. The bookmakers have him as a shorter-priced favourite than almost any other male athlete at the World Championships – only 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk’s odds are shorter – and there was an ominous warning from within Farah’s camp on Thursday.

“Every year certain things happen where it gets to a point that suddenly Mo Farah knows he’s ready,” said Neil Black, British Athletics performance director.

“This year it was probably about 12 days ago. He did something in training without killing himself that confirmed to him and the rest of us that he’s ready.

“He then takes his shoes off and says: ‘That’s it job done’. You’ll see something special.”

If there are troubles to be found they are certainly not on the track. But away from it Farah’s legacy remains insecure.

His coach Alberto Salazar is under investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency over a raft of alleged doping violations, while Farah has been unable to shake off questions surrounding two missed drugs tests in the run up to that London 2012 success.

Mo Farah to star for Britain at IAAF

Mo Farah
Image: Athletics weekly

This year there have been further concerns over the improper documentation of a legal L-carnitine infusion he received before the 2014 London Marathon, and the emergence of an IAAF document from 2015 that features the notation “Likely doping; Passport suspicious: further data is required” next to Farah’s name.

A second IAAF file, dated April 2016, appeared to clear Farah of any suspicion and the four-time Olympic champion has angrily refuted any suggestion that he would ever break anti-doping rules, telling the media: “You guys just make something out of nothing.”

It was a view that Black echoed as he spoke to journalists at British House in London, while Farah remained safely ensconced in the Nike section of the same building where he was launching a new pair of trainers.

“You look people in the eye and you have to work out and ask the question: ‘Do I believe there is anything that suggests otherwise?’” said Black. “And there is nothing at all that suggests otherwise to me.

“It is very easy for people to fall into the trap of seeking fault and blame – talking negatively and building this picture.”

At pains to avoid more negative publicity in the build up to these World Championships, Farah has been banned by his celebrity PR firm from speaking to British newspapers, despite the best efforts of UK Athletics to promote the event.

Yet come 9.20pm on Friday when he lines up for the 10,000m final, the capacity London Stadium crowd will not care.

“I think the public does still love Mo,” says sports marketing expert Nigel Currie.

“There is a degree of confusion among the public as to what actually goes on, what is legal and what is not.

“But, having said that, he’s such an endearing personality that he’s been able to continue to raise his profile and emerge as a hero.

In Mo’s case, he hasn’t broken any rules, so the public tends to accept that it’s OK.”

It is difficult to quantify the effect of Farah’s boyish personality in maintaining the widespread adoration of the British public, but there can be few doubts that his charm and engaging demeanour have helped.

His trademark ‘Mobot’ pose is known nationwide, while in recent years he has extended his profile through a series of children’s picture books he has co-written.

John Standerline, British Athletics Supporters Club chairman, says those at the heart of the sport’s fanbase appreciate the regularity of Farah’s trips from his adopted home in Portland, Oregon, to compete in Britain.

“There’s always been the little bit in the background about Salazar and whether the rumours are real,” he says.

“But I’m sure Mo’s been tested more than anyone else, so from that point of view we just see him as a competent, hard-working athlete, looking for success and getting it.

“He’s raced in the wet for the World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff [in 2016] and he always turns up and races.

“He’s done some of the cross countries in Scotland where he hasn’t got the results he wanted, but he was there doing his best and I think that comes over really well.”

BBC commentator and former Commonwealth 10,000m champion Brendan Foster sums it up: “I think the British public trust and admire Mo Farah. He’s the best winner we’ve ever had.”

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