Mo Farah has endured blood, sweat and tears to get to where he is right now – but the Richmond local intends to push himself even further in the Rio Olympics
Words: James Toney
The quadruple double double sounds like something Tom Daley should be attempting off diving’s high board in Rio de Janeiro – instead it’s the sole mission of Mo Farah. Farah arrives in Brazil this month with the weight of history – and expectation – on his slender shoulders.
He’s already a double double world champion, now he’s aiming to be a double double Olympic champion too, which would establish him in the pantheon of distance running legends, alongside some of the immortals of his sport. Only the legendary Emil Zátopek, Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele and fabled ‘Flying Finn’ Lasse Virén have defended their 5,000m and 10,000m Olympic titles – so victory would put Farah in a very exclusive club.
And the 33-year-old admits he still sometimes can’t believe what he’s achieved, even if he has to think long and hard about whether he’d swap all his medals for his ultimate sporting dream, starting up front for his beloved Arsenal. ‘It’s taken a lot of hard work to reach this point and this level,’ he says. ‘It doesn’t stop, it’s day after day, month after month, year after year. I’m putting my body through hell to make sure I do myself proud in Rio.
‘I’m very proud of my four world Golds from Moscow and Beijing and my two Golds from London 2012. I know how hard those races were and it would be so special to make history on the world stage again this summer. Defending my titles is in my mind in every training session and it won’t be easy, I’ve got a target on my back and the best in the world certainly know who I am.
‘The Olympics means so much to me. London was the greatest moment of my career. Sometimes when I look back on it, I still can’t believe it happened,’ he recalls. ‘To race in your home city, with 80,000 fans roaring you and pushing you to victory and shouting your name, it doesn’t get any better than that. It will be different in Rio, but even though I’ll be thousands of miles away from London, I know I will still have that support from home, and that keeps me going and drives me on. But it doesn’t get any easier – in fact, it gets harder.’
To race in your home city, with 80,000 fans roaring you and pushing you to victory and shouting your name, it doesn’t get any better than that
Farah’s #RoadToRio has taken many a twist and turn, from arriving in the UK from war-torn Somalia as an eight-year-old to relocating his family to Arizona to join the training camp of coach Alberto Salazar, who last year was forced to strenuously deny doping allegations made against him.
On the track it’s not been easy, either. Farah didn’t even progress beyond his heat when he made his Olympic debut in Beijing eight years ago. But he’s certainly more than fulfilled the potential seen in him by Alan Watkinson, his sports teacher from his old school, Isleworth & Syon.
There’s a story behind every athlete in Rio and Watkinson plays a big part in Farah’s journey there. He used to bribe his young charge with the promise of buying him a football shirt, such was his athletic talent, but preference for all things Gunners.
Six national school titles – and quite a few kits – later and Farah finally knew where his sporting destiny lay, though could never quite have predicted just what lay ahead.
‘If I’m honest it was only when I won the European junior title in 2001 that I thought I might be able to make a career as a professional athlete,’ he adds.
‘I’m blessed because this sport has shaped my life and given me the chance to provide for my family and to make sure my children have all the opportunities I may not have had when I was growing up.’
But Farah’s jet set lifestyle means sacrifices in pursuit of more Olympic success, from altitude training camps in Ethiopia to competitions around the world, it means quality time with wife Tania and children Rhianna, Aisha, Amani and Hussein has been in short supply.
I’ve got four children and only two Olympic Golds, so I need another two make it fair!
‘These days the big personal challenge is being away from Tania and the kids, missing things they are doing and achieving,’ he admits. ‘They understand and are so supportive and all my achievements are their achievements too. Besides, I’ve got four children and only two Olympic Golds, so I need another two make it fair!’