Mohamed Farah of Great Britain celebrates as he crosses the finish line to claim victory in the men's 5000 metres final (© Getty Images)
Daegu, KoreaWith one year to go to the Olympic Games in London Mo Farah found himself on top of the world. One week after being narrowly beaten in the 10,000m final the runner from Great Britain took the 5000 m World Championships gold, clocking 13:23.36. This time Farah could hold off the challenge from behind him in the final straight.
The 28-year-old achieved another piece of history for European long distance running in Daegu. A week ago he became the first European 10,000m runner to win a medal on the global stage since Italy’s Salvatore Antibo had taken silver in the Olympic final of 1988, incidentally, also in Korea. In the World Championships there had been no medal in this event since Francesco Panetta. The Italian was second in Rome in 1987.
In the 5000m the last European medal had been won by Belgium’s Mohammed Mourhit at the World Championships in Seville in 1999. While he had switched citizenship from Morocco there were two original Europeans who had taken silver and bronze in the 1987 championships: Domingos Castro (Portugal) and Jack Buckner (Great Britain). Only once had there been a European winner in the World Championships 5000 m: Eamonn Coghlan (Ireland) took the gold in Helsinki in 1983. Looking into Olympic history there it was Dieter Baumann who last won a medal in this event: The German became Olympic Champion in Barcelona in 1992.
So Mo Farah, who has of course African routes, but who came to Britain at the age of eight, has achieved something quite remarkable in South Korea. So does he think that his performance can set an example and show that European distance runners can close the gap to the Africans and even beat them?
“Yes, definitely,” Farah answers. “Six or seven years ago we thought it will be impossible for us to ever beat the Africans. But others like Craig Mottram (third in the 5000m final at the World Championships in Helsinki in 2005) had shown that it is possible to win a medal. So I think now the gap between the Europeans and the Africans is starting to close a bit. You have to believe in yourself, you have to stay focused and you have to train very hard – then it is possible.”
Regarding the Olympics next year in London Farah was asked if his great success in Daegu somehow came a year too early.
“No, this is what we train for. We take one race after another. Of course it will be great to have the Olympics on my doorstep next year,” explained the Londoner. “And of course you never know what will happen in the time until the Games as well as in the races in London.”
But Farah is well positioned to get not too much of the hype in the built-up. Having switched coaches last year – he had left Alan Storey and joined the group of former marathon world-class runner Alberto Salazar in the USA – he partly moved to Oregon. “It is quiet there. No-one knows what we are doing. So I will be fine there (preparing for the Olympics).”
“I have to thank my coach Alberto Salazar for being able to achieve this,” Farah said. But he also praised his former coach Alan Storey, “who developed me into a world-class runner”. After the 10,000m final and in preparation to the 5000m final the American had told him: You have to dig in, keep focused, don’t let anyone pass you and think positive.
“That is what I was thinking about. But there were still some negative feelings, when we entered the home straight – I thought, ‘Oh no, not again’. But I held on. And I had learnt something from the 10,000 metres. There I had not much left at the end of the race. But this time I had saved a little bit of energy during the race for the final part. Especially since I knew about the speed of Bernard Lagat.”
This helped to hold off the challenge from Lagat on the home straight. The American turned out to actually have supported Farah in the 10,000m race a week ago. “Yes, I was sitting in the stands, watched this race and hoped he would win, because he had worked so hard and was leading when they entered the home straight. So I was a bit disappointed that he could not hold on, but in championship races a lot can happen,” said Lagat, who was happy with his silver medal. “I know Mo is training hard and he deserved to win this tonight.”
Thinking back into childhood years and when he came to Great Britain from Somalia he said during the winner’s press conference: “This is amazing that I sit here today. When I came to my father, who had already been in London, it was of course a different life. For him it was very important that I do well at school. I loved sports and running. So when I went running my father would ask: But did you do your homework?” It was then a sports teacher who spotted Farah’s talent for distance running. “He convinced me to stop playing football and going for athletics instead. And he brought me to the local athletics club, where it all started.”
When Farah was doing the lap of honour on the track in Daegu he carried the Union Jack with two words on it: “Fly Mo”. The next flight will be London 2012.
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF