LONDON: Mo Farah’s decision to forgo home comforts transformed him from European to world champion and the popular Briton is banking on the gruelling training regime that got him there to propel him to the ultimate glory of Olympic gold.
The 29-year-old heads to next month’s London Games from his American base in Portland, Oregon as favourite for the 10,000 metres title and a leading contender for the 5,000 if he decides to run in both events.
Contender status signals some journey for Farah, whose rise began in 2006 with 5,000m European silver, stuttered with Olympic and world championship failures, and took off with major titles which have boosted his popularity at home and abroad and made his famous grin a potential image of the London Games.
Until European gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres in 2010 Farah said he had doubted he had what it took to win big races, but having tasted success, the man who moved to England from Mogadishu, Somalia at the age of eight, knew he wanted more.
Just under seven months after his European triumphs, Farah parted with coach Alan Storey and swapped runs through west London’s leafy parks for a quieter, media-free environment in Oregon and a new trainer in three-times New York marathon winner Alberto Salazar.
Salazar’s arrival brought newfound confidence to the softly-spoken Farah, whose polite and meek demeanour is now reserved for everything except the track and ferocious assaults on his sport’s most coveted titles.
Success came in South Korea in 2011, although not first without heartbreak as Farah was forced to settle for silver in the 10,000m.
The race had audiences captivated as Farah looked set for gold after breaking clear of the field. Instead, he crossed the line distraught, his eyes bulging with pain when he realised that Ethiopia’s Ibrahim Jeilan was about to overhaul him with the final stride.
That despair was replaced by joy days later when Farah became the first British man to win the 5,000m world title, cementing his place among his sport’s long-distance elite.
Farah’s rise has been about training and little else.
The Arsenal fan’s big word is focus and in leaving the spotlight of home he has been able to get to grips with a regime that includes high-tech innovations like an underwater treadmill and a freezing cold chamber aimed at longer sessions and quicker recovery times.
His 120-miles-a-week running regime is also tackled at an average pace of 5.4 minutes a mile, a minute quicker than his previous routine in Britain, while overseas altitude training in Kenya is conducted with Salazar via chats on Skype.
Added to the pressure of an expectant home nation, the difficulty of Farah’s London task may depend on the fitness of Ethiopia’s injury-hit 10,000m and 5,000m Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele.
A Briton has never won the Olympic 5,000m or 10,000m and Bekele is aiming for an unprecedented third successive gold in the longer event.
Preparations since Daegu have been mixed but heading in the right direction for Farah, who will run the 10,000m at the Olympics on August 4 but is only likely to decide on a bid for the 5,000m after recovering from the gruelling 25-lap race.
Qualifying for the 5,000m starts on August 8 with the final three days later.
A modest indoor campaign culminated in a fourth-place finish in the world championship 3,000 metres but creeping fears of fatigue have been eased by an unbeaten start to his preferred outdoor season.
In May he won a 1,500m and 5,000m double in California, running the longer distance just 55 minutes after finishing the shorter one, and he eased to a comfortable 10,000m London road race win on a day which began with him admitting to his Twitter followers that he had forgotten to pack his running vest.
That was followed in June by a confidence-boosting 5,000m victory at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, where Farah set the fastest time in the world this year with Bekele back in fourth, almost five seconds off his time of 12 minutes 56.98 seconds.
With international recognition, his own charity distributing aid in war-torn Somalia and a new ‘Mobot’ move in which he spells out his name above his head to celebrate race wins, Farah’s stock has risen sharply since an early Beijing exit.
His recent demolition of Bekele in Oregon has set the standard and done little to dampen the Olympic expectations of his home nation. Come the summer British fans everywhere might well be sporting smiles as wide as Farah’s trademark grin.