Punching the air in triumph, a pumped-up Mo Farah definitively demonstrated the doping allegations levelled at his coach and his training partner off the track had not affected his performance on it.
The double Olympic champion said afterwards he had been itching to race amid the controversy that has swirled around his head over the past month, since his mentor Alberto Salazar was accused of a range of doping violations by the BBC’s Panorama.
It was as though all that frustration was released as he duelled with the Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha on the back straight of the final lap in the 5,000m and passed him on the final bend to win a tactically perfect race in 13min 11.77sec.
But even after what should have been a cathartic moment, Farah found himself embroiled in a new controversy after verbally clashing with his fellow British runner Andy Vernon, with whom he has had a long-running feud, after the race.
During it, Farah didn’t seem to have a care in the world. In a tough field, he shrugged off his recent worries and, beaming with delight, set off on a lap of honour after crossing the line at the Athletissima meeting in Lausanne.
“As an athlete all I want to do is what I do best and that’s to run and to represent my country and to win medals, enjoy training and enjoy racing,” he said.
He admitted that recent weeks, since the allegations against Salazar and Galen Rupp that changed his world, had been “hard” but insisted he “just wanted to run”.
Farah did not choose an easy place to make his comeback to the track after the doping allegations that have engulfed his coach and, in his words, dragged his name “through the mud”.
In a world-class field, Farah faced the strong Ethiopian duo of Imane Merga and Kejelcha, the prodigious 17-year-old who won in Rome in a world-leading time of 12:58.39. The Kenyan, Caleb Ndiku, is also an obvious threat to Farah’s world championship hopes next month.
With eight laps to go Farah, in the black Nike Project Oregon kit that has become indelibly associated with his travails, began to move through the field and hit the front with three left. After the bell, he and Kejelcha began to race down the back straight. But Farah expertly held off his challenge to prove that the media storm that has engulfed him has not damaged his chances at this summer’s world championships.
It was Farah’s first race since pulling out of a meeting in Birmingham in the wake of allegations broadcast by the BBC’s Panorama early in June and on the US website ProPublica against Salazar and Rupp. The double Olympic champion has been training in Font Romeu in the Pyrenees since returning from Portland, where he said he challenged Salazar. He publicly backed Salazar after the coach released a 11,000-word rebuttal challenging the allegations. Amid the fallout, it was also revealed that Farah missed two drug tests in the build-up to the 2012 Olympic Games at which he won double gold.
Last week, he went on the offensive, challenging his doubters to prove he was not “100% clean”. “It’s killing me, it’s killing my family,” he said.
The organisers hoped the focus would be on the 10 reigning Olympic champions who converged on the cramped, charming Stade de la Pontaise for one of the most atmospheric meetings in the Diamond League calendar. But the spectre of the doping scandals that echo down the sport’s recent history, and are likely to foreshadow August’s world championships in Beijing, were never far away.
The American Justin Gatlin, unbeaten in 25 races, took on his compatriot Tyson Gay and the Jamaican Asafa Powell, all three of whom have served doping bans of varying lengths. Gatlin prevailed in 9.75sec, almost equalling his season’s best, from Powell and Gay.
Among the British hopes, there was a hugely encouraging personal best to win the 200m by Zharnel Hughes. The teenage sprinter, who recently obtained British citizenship, has become the latest to be blessed – or cursed – with the “new Usain Bolt” tag.
Bolt, who Hughes ran close this season, was absent from the race amid ongoing injury concerns and the 19-year-old came home comfortably in 20.13.
“I feel really good about my race. My season has been going better with each race and now as British champion I look forward to doing well at the world championships,” he said. “For me the goal is to get into the final and then aim for the podium.”
Hughes is free to compete for Britain as the Caribbean island of Anguilla is a British overseas territory and is not recognised by the International Olympic Committee. He will now be considered a genuine medal contender in an increasingly open 200m field.
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