Tania Farah is so used to watching her husband compete in the world’s most high-profile tournaments, she no longer feels particularly emotional about a race. No matter how high the stakes, she is always composed and never sheds a tear.
But when Mohamed Farah won “double-double” gold medals in the 5,000m and 10,000m at Rio 2016, making him the first Briton to achieve such a feat, and only the second Olympian ever to have done so – she admits that she couldn’t stop herself from “crying like a baby”.
“This summer has been the hardest of my life,” she says. “Mo has been away the whole time and we didn’t see him at all. There have been times where we’ve gone days without talking because of time differences. I’ve had to get through life with the kids on my own. Challenges come up every day and I have to shield them from Mo. He doesn’t know half the stuff that goes on at home, because I just can’t distract him from what he needs to focus on.”
This weekend, Tania and Mo are in the same country so they can both compete in the Great North Run today in Newcastle – though Tania stresses that while Mo will be racing, she will simply be running. They have left their four children at their home in Portland, Oregon – Rhianna, 11, who Tania give birth to before she began dating Mo, four-year-old twin girls Amani and Aisha, who were born just before London 2012, and baby boy Hussein, who will soon reach his first birthday.
The family left their native London in 2011 to live in America to make it easier for Mo to train, but he still ends up spending six months a year away from the family. It’s no wonder Tania feels like a “single mum” half the time.
“I’m a very full-time mum, that’s all I can be when he’s gone. I don’t get a night out, a day off. In fact, the last time I was sick, I remember thinking: ‘I can’t be sick right now. There’s nobody here to take the reins. If I’m sick, it will all fall apart’.
“I try and shut all my feelings down when Mo leaves. I try not to look at it too much as me playing both roles of mum and dad, but thinking: ‘You can take care of all the things that need to be done.’ I organize priorities in my head every day and focus on ticking those off. We get by and make it work.”
Tania and Mo met when she was 11 and they both went to the same school in Feltham, west London, were they bonded over growing up in a predominantly white area and their shared religion of Islam. They were “like brother and sister” for several years until they left school and grew apart. It was only when Tania was 22 that they reconnected on Facebook and began a romantic relationship.
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At the time, Mo had begun intense training, but Tania still had no idea what she was letting herself in for. “I never expected it to be like this. As harsh as it sounds, and even Mo will admit, he has to be selfish. I allow him to be. That’s why I don’t necessarily tell him all the little things that are going on at home. He needs to be focused on himself, and any distraction won’t be productive.”
The hardest part for her – bar the sheer exhaustion of raising four children alone – is seeing the effect Mo’s absence has on them. One of the twins stops eating as soon as her father leaves and completely withdraws into herself, refusing to cooperate with anyone – even her mother.
“It’s hard for me because I feel her pain. I’m feeling it, too, but I can’t do anything about it. I’m not dad. I can’t fill that void, and she wants her dad back. They speak to him on Skype which helps somewhat, but it can also make it harder because they can see him, but can’t hug him. Trying to keep strong and not let them see your pain – that’s hard. But they feel it anyway.”
But when Mo does come home, she says he is “super hands-on”, doing everything from changing Hussein’s nappies to helping the girls brush their teeth and cooking meals. “He does everything I do, and more – he takes the girls out a lot more than I do. It’s his way of making up for all the time he’s away, and he has one-on-one time with all of them.
“He’s also very disciplined. He makes Rhianna run every so often on the treadmill. She doesn’t like that, but it’s good for her. She’s very active but eats an awful lot, so it’s important to have that balance of being healthy. He’s very firm with whatever he decides for the kids, whether it’s diet, exercise, bed times or TV time. I’m happy to take a back seat when he comes home.”
Mo famously dedicated his first two Olympic gold medals to his twins in 2012, and this year was determined to win two more for Rhianna and Hussein. He never discussed his plan to do so with Tania, and it makes her emotional to this day. “How can you not, as a mother, be overwhelmed by the fact that each one of your kids has an Olympic medal with their name engraved on it? I’m so blessed and fortunate to have a man who can do what he does and then go and dedicate it to the kids.”
However, he still has not dedicated one to her. “I wonder if I can convince him to do Tokyo and get me a gold?” she laughs. Mo has said he plans to make 2017 his last year competing in major championships, but Tania thinks he could still win in the 2020 Olympics. “I don’t think anyone could defeat him mentally. It’s physical for him if his body holds up. He certainly could pull it off again.”
But as a wife and mother, she’s still on the fence. Mo’s career has always come first, and if he does start to wind down his running, she can focus on her dreams. “I’ve always been interested in working in law. I went to night school for a while and started a Law A-level, but I stopped when I had Rhianna. I still feel some level of interest in it, so I’d like to try that. Maybe then Mo could take a back seat.”
It would also allow them to achieve one of their long-term goals and as a family visit Mecca, the Saudi Arabian city considered holy in Islam. “Religion is important to us despite how it might look,” explains Tania. “We don’t pray five times a day, but we certainly follow the main fundamentals of the religion, especially for our kids. I’m sometimes a bit wary of telling people I’m a Muslim because I’m worried of how they might view me. It sounds terrible because I should be proud and I am, but I’m also conscious of how we’re viewed nowadays.”
Both her and Mo experienced racism growing up in London in the 80s – and it still continues. Tania says when they boarded a flight home from Rio last month, a flight attendant refused to recognize that Mo had a business class ticket.
“This woman basically humiliated him until people came forward and said: ‘That’s Mo Farah, the Olympic champion…’ She was mortified afterwards, but had basically yelled at him like he was a piece of s— to get back into line. He was the only black person [in the queue] and hadn’t done anything to warrant it. I just knew she had a problem with him.”
Thankfully, Tania knows that this is not how Britain feels about Mo. There have been calls to grant him a knighthood, and the idea thrills her. “It’s my title that I’m excited about. Being called a lady sound so hilarious to me, because I’ve never been called a lady by anyone. It’s a huge honor – it goes without saying.
“We’re lucky enough to enjoy a good life. We’re grateful for everything we have and right now, I feel like I’m living the dream, I really do.”