Own the start line.
The phrase is so ubiquitous in track and field that it has become largely vacuous. But for Mo Farah it remains an essential part of his race philosophy. Before he crouches into the ready position for the 10,000m final on Saturday, he will glower at the rivals and silently ask them: are you faster than me, are you mentally tougher than me – and, if it came to it, would you fight me? And silently he will tell himself the answer: no, you are not.
As Neil Black, the performance director of British Athletics explained earlier this year: “You may have read things about Mo. But the critical bit of information you need to know is that on the start line he believes that he can run the last 400m, or the last kilometre, faster than anyone. He believes he could lift any weight in the gym better, faster and heavier than his rivals. And he believes that if he had to fight anyone there he could kick the shit out them. That’s what owning the start line is.”
Farah is just as dominant when it comes to owning the finish line too. Usually his races follow the same script: bodies hustling for position until with 600m or 400m to go, before Farah surges into the lead and, after another devastating kick off the final bend, into the record books.
And there is worrying news for anyone with the dare, or dash, to believe they can topple him in Beijing: Farah’s camp believe he is in such supreme shape they are talking up his chances of completing athletics’ first ever middle-distance triple double – an Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m title followed by successive world 5,000m and 10,000m titles. Farah is more circumspect, but his belief is clear.
“I think this year my opponents might try something different,” he says when probed about how he feels the 10,000m final may pan out. “I think early on they will try to do something to burn me out – or perhaps even tire me out for the 5,000m next week. But we have ticked every box in training.” And how. According to Black, when an email detailing his final hard training session for Beijing came round there were smiles in the camp.
As Black explains: “Mo is as confident as I’ve ever seen him. He’s doing things in training that would suggest we should be really confident, and he has an amazing ability to focus on the task in hand. He’s very determined to come here and win. He’s not interested in anything else.”
On Friday Farah was back with his coach Alberto Salazar and training partner Galen Rupp in the Bird’s Nest, one of the first times all three have been together since the BBC broadcast serious doping allegations in June about Salazar and Rupp which are strongly denied by both men.
Farah looked relaxed as he chatted away before messing about with his portable drone which he brings with him on trips. Whatever you make of his decision to stand by Salazar – and what some see as showing tremendous loyalty others regard as an unnecessary reputation risk given Salazar is being investigated by the United States Anti-Doping Agency – it has not affected his performances. Farah is not only a staggeringly good middle-distance runner. He is a great compartmentaliser too.
For despite the pressures of the press and the paparazzi dogging him, and having to leave his family and Salazar behind in Oregon to move to train in Font Romeu earlier than planned, Farah has produced time and again in the past two months. This season he leads the Diamond Race table over 5,000m, has the world leading 10,000m time, and he has also run 3min 28sec for 1,500m, a smidgeon outside his own British record. He is 32 now but shows no signs of slowing down.
Of his rivals, only two look to have the tools to challenge him over 10,000m. The Kenyan world-cross country champion, Geoffrey Kamworor, who was startlingly impressive in his recent national trials by running 27min 11sec at altitude, and his compatriot Paul Tanui. But Farah raced them both season at the Prefontaine classic in Eugene, with the familiar result.
There is a caveat. Kamworor, in particular, has stepped up significantly since then, and he claims the Kenyans are preparing to work together to defeat Farah. “We are talking among ourselves so that we will run as a team and I believe my colleagues are serious on it,” he told Kenya’s The Nation newspaper. Only by setting a strong, surging pace from the off to they have chance. And that might mean that one of the Kenyan team has to sacrifice their chances of a medal. Are they really prepared to do that?
The last time Farah raced in the Bird’s Nest it was at the 2008 Olympics, in which suffered what he calls “the biggest disappointment in my career” by failing to qualify for the 5,000m final. “I remember coming back home with my head down, knowing that I could have got to the final but I didn’t,” he says. “But I came back four years later in London and that was the most amazing thing ever. Now my aim is to go out there and make history.” Once again, you wouldn’t bet against him.
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