Mo Farah is the double world and Olympic distance champion. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
Only Kenenisa Bekele has done that before, and a Briton has never previously got close to that kind of dominance.
A question many fans and pundits ask is why – when half a dozen of them have quicker personal best times – Mo’s rivals always seem to run cagey, slow races that allow Farah to use his superior finishing pace to claim victory.
It is argued that such tactical races play into Mo’s hands because, in addition to his sprinting ability, he is probably the cleverest racer on the circuit, who thrives on the hustle and bustle of the jostling pack, fending off physical attacks and constantly engaged in chatter with friends – like training pal Galen Rupp – and foes.
The writer Malcolm Gladwell theorised after the Olympics that Farah could have been beaten had somebody set a faster pace - but whoever did it would have effectively sabotaged their own chances of gold. Consequently, his rivals hung back and waited for someone else to push the pace. Of course, nobody did and the slow race effectively handed victory to Farah. The game theory of distance running played perfectly into his hands.
This kind of strategy has been employed before in other sports, as we saw when Germany, France and the rest shot themselves in the foot during the Olympic cycling road race last summer. They were so worried about the British team - and so determined to keep them at the front of the peloton where the work is harder - that they neglected to follow the breakaway that ultimately sealed gold.
Farah, though, is more complex. In the past, a quick race would have seen him suffer, as the incessant sub-60 laps over 5-10k fatigued the younger Mo. His finishing speed would be irrelevant as he would be too far off the overall pace.
But – and his rivals know this – Farah has changed. A renewed sense of professionalism saw him cut out the partying, and base his entire lifestyle around training, first in Kenya, and now in the United States with Nike’s high-tech Project Oregon team.
His stamina and speed endurance increased hugely, to the point where he rarely seems tired and can always dig out a 25s 200m at the end of a gruelling distance slog.
Farah never runs 1500m, but he did last month – and set a European record and sixth-fastest time ever in the process. Why? Because a world-class 1500m specialist led from the front, and Farah was able to follow.
Combine that with the daily half-marathons he runs while training under Alberto Salazar in the United States, and you have the perfect all-round middle- and long-distance athlete, with so many weapons in his arsenal that forcing a slow tactical race – and thus the possibility of a spiking or heavy fall – is probably the best chance you have of beating him.
World-record long-distance times are rarely run in major championships because a world record usually requires a pacemaker or two, and no one is going to sacrifice the chance of a medal to help Farah set a record.
And Farah is a championship runner – he rarely bothers with the longer distances during the regular season, often popping up for a 3000m or two-mile jaunt, or shorter – as we saw in July. As such, his championship performances will always come with a slower overall time, but a savage finishing kick.
Farah is close to being unbeatable, and his rivals know that. A world record requires a perfect storm of conditions and excellent pace-making, and expect that to be one of his next challenges before running marathons. London’s track is quick, as are those at Oslo and Brussels, so expect a showpiece run at one of these venues.
Until then there is only one way to honour the man from Mogadishu via Feltham – arise, Sir Mo.
- Sports & Recreation
- Mo Farah