Mohamed Farah’s track career ends with a shattering defeat in front of adoring home crowd
If defeat is the making of a true champion, then Mohamed Farah left the track at the Olympic stadium last night as the greatest champion of all. The record books will confirm his status but they will not speak of the courage with which Farah took on the rest of the world one last time. That he failed, beaten finally, for the first time at a major championships since 2011, by Muktar Edris of Ethiopia, stripped nothing from the legend.
Farah was tested first by a lone breakaway by the Australian Patrick Tiernan, and then by a combination of Paul Chelimo, Yomif Kejelcha and Muktar Edris off the final bend. Momentarily, the miles, the tough 10,000m a week ago which had left him, in his own words, ‘beaten up’ and the pressure of giving his faithful home crowd one last hurrah took their toll on Farah’s slender frame. Hard though he tried, he could not find the final kick that had turned every race at the world championships or the Olympics for six years into thrilling victory. Farah, at the age of 34, simply had nothing left to give and the London crowd, who had leapt to their feet to cheer him round every lap, acknowledged the inevitability of the defeat and saluted their champion with even greater abandon.
“I gave it my all,” said the defeated Farah. “I was beaten by the better man on the day. I’m not sure there was any more I could have done.” At the line, Farah collapsed to the floor not in his usual pose of triumph but overwhelmed by exhaustion and disappointment. Farah is not used to letting down his public, but he learned soon enough that he had done nothing of the sort. Edris, the 23-year-old Ethiopian who had been disqualified for stepping inside the track after finishing fourth behind Farah in Rio, celebrated by copying his trademark ‘Mobot’ sign. But the rest of the field formed an orderly queue to give their fallen champion a hug. Farah, who had to push and battle his way through the race, did not know he had so many friends.
So the records, on the track at least, can stop clicking. Farah moves alongside Michael Johnson in the list of multiple world champions with eight medals, behind Bolt, LaShawn Merritt and Carl Lewis. Johnson’s eight medals were all gold, but Farah is keeping exclusive company. Farah has six gold and two silver, which is a haul the eight-year-old who arrived from Somaliland with no grasp of English language or culture could hardly have imagined. “Anything is possible,” Farah told the crowd before a lap of honor. Only Bolt has more individual golds.
Not since the 10,000m in 2011 has anyone beaten Farah at an Olympics or world championships; even then it was only inexperience that cost him dear. He did not leave quite enough in the tank for one final push, but he never made the same mistake again. Farah learnt that night about race strategy and psychology and has applied those lessons faultlessly against a posse of African opponents ever since. He does not just race, he searches each of his selected rivals for weakness, loitering at times at the back then accelerating past the whole field to mix it for a few laps at the front just to assert his control. Last night there was just a hint of desperation in his kidology, the light tap on the back as his teammate, Andrew Butchart, passed by, the exaggerated use of the elbows to dismiss Selemon Barega and, tellingly, the lack of instant response to the long push for home by Tiernan which gave Farah’s rivals a glimmer of hope. Somewhere over the 12 and a half laps, Farah’s sudden vulnerability, the weight in his legs, was communicated to the rest of the field.
His victory a week ago in the 10,000m was, he said, the toughest of his life but Farah still provided a masterclass in sustained psychological warfare. The run took a lot out of him and in the heats of the 5,000m the tiredness began to show. It was a tribute to Farah that only when he was pressed, by Chelimo and Kejelcha, who almost shielded Edris from Farah’s final lunge, did he give up one of his titles. Farah outran Chelimo for the silver in a time of 13:33.23 but had no chance of catching Edris, who thoroughly deserved his victory.
Farah still brought Britain a second medal at these frustrating championships, bringing his tally to 12 for major championships in a career bookended by silver medals. The marathon, Farah’s next target, is unlikely to provide the same heady mix of thrill and, at times, spill nor will it necessarily foster another period of dominance for the British athlete. Butchart ran an aggressive race to finish eighth. “I was kind of cheering for Mohamed in my head,” he said. “Then I got caught on the line. I was spent.” And so, at the last, was Farah.