- The 33-year-old star is looking to defend his 5,000m and 10,000m titles in Brazil.
- Farah will be among Britain’s main hopes of success in Rio.
By Joshua Evans
London 2012 represented a life-shaping moment in the lives of numerous British athletes – but for one in particular, the Games marked the culmination of an especially improbable rise to the top.
Far removed from the glitz of the Olympic Games, Mohamed Muktar Jama ‘Mo’ Farah began life on the streets of the war-torn east-African state of Somalia, where he spent the early years of his childhood.
By age eight, it was decided Farah should join his father, Mukhtar Farah, an IT consultant and a British citizen, in London. He arrived in the country barely able to speak a word of English and was soon enrolled at Isleworth and Syon school in west London. It was here that Farah’s journey towards Olympic stardom really started to gather pace, as his talent was first identified by PE teacher Alan Watkinson.
Farah, for his part, was determined to pursue his ambition of becoming a car mechanic or playing for Arsenal, his favorite football team. Yet those around the scrawny youngster recognized his flagrant talent for running and Farah was eventually convinced to join the Borough of Hounslow Athletics Club in west London.
In 1996 – the year of the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia – Farah won the first of five English school titles and that success convinced athletics philanthropist Eddie Kulukundis to pay the legal fees that would complete his naturalization as a British citizen.
By now, Farah’s ambitions of playing for the Gunners had long since evaporated and he was instead destined for a life on the track. What he would achieve, however, was to be determined by his dedication to pursuing his goals.
After winning the 5,000m at the European Athletics Junior Championship in 2001, Farah began training at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, where he developed his athletics talents and also took some modules in an access course before becoming a full-time athlete.
The mid-2000s marked another turning point in Farah’s rapidly-developing career, as he moved in with Australian Craig Mottram and a group of Kenyan runners, which the Brit subsequently claimed helped to fuel his ambition. “If I ever want to be as good as these athletes, I’ve got to work harder,” he reflected. “I don’t just want to be British number one, I want to be up there with the best.”
But still Farah continued to lag some way beyond the world’s elite long-distance runners and in 2008, he suffered the disappointment of failing to make the 5,000m final at the Olympics in Beijing. Farah’s misery was compounded a year later, too, when after leading the 5,000m race at the 2009 World Championships, he eventually finished seventh.
Then came the breakthrough year: 2011. Farah decided to relocate to Portland, Oregon in February to work with new coach Alberto Salazar – and the decision paid off immediately. He won a silver medal in the 10,000m and then the gold in the 5,000m at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, thereby becoming the first British man to win a global medal over either distance.
And with the 2012 Olympics – in his adopted home city – on the horizon, the stage was set for Farah to emerge as a British sporting hero for the 21st century. And he did not disappoint.
On 4 August, 2012, in front of a jam-packed crowd inside the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, Farah (10,000m), Jessica Ennis-Hill (heptathlon) and Greg Rutherford (long jump) each won a gold medal in the same session of athletics. It was subsequently dubbed Super Saturday – and Farah, who had popularized his eye-catching ‘Mobot’ celebration, was established as one of the stars of the Games.
The boy from Somaliland was not finished there, either. Seven days later, at the same venue, Farah returned to the track to win the gold in the 5,000m, thereby establishing himself as one of Britain’s best-ever and most popular Olympians.
Now, at 33 and with four more World Championship gold medals to his credit, Farah will be seeking to do it all again in Rio de Janeiro. It is a familiar challenge, of course, but as he has proved through the course of his fairytale-like rise, Farah is more than up to the task.