London 2012 Olympics: Mo Farah goes the distance to become a true great
THE perfect Games have had the perfect ending, Mo Farah providing it in the most gobsmacking fashion at the Olympic Stadium, a place we may as well call the MoDome from now on.
There has been a lot of talk of greatness and legend these past weeks and Farah now enters that conversation. Only six men in history had ever done the Olympic double over the long distances, but six became seven last night. Farah’s 5,000m victory, just like the 10,000m triumph that went before, was a thing of beauty and a joy forever, a stunning display of endless power, tactical nous and unbreakable will.
They came for him. Oh how they came for him. Farah was not the favourite to win this final, that’s a fact. Of the 15 men lining up at the start, six had run faster over 5,000m and most of them were fresh as daisies, untroubled by the physical challenge Farah faced. There was sentiment and the desperate desire to see him win and then there was logic and logic told us that this was a seriously hot field, a field full of supreme talents who had not emptied themselves in a 10,000m a week before, who had not just lived through the most emotional week of their lives, as Farah had done.
Dejen Gebremeskel, the fastest man in the world this year, was the fancied one. Gebremeskel from Ethiopia, Thomas Longosiwa from Kenya, Bernard Lagat from the USA. Other Ethiopians, other Kenyans. And Farah, who looked a tired man when qualifying for this final.
All of them came and all of them were beaten. We thought it impossible that the drama of Farah’s gold medal heroics the previous Saturday could be matched, but they were. With four laps to go Farah was tucked in behind the leaders in sixth; with two left Gebremeskel was at the front but he had Farah on his shoulder now. The bell to signal the final lap went and Farah hit the front, a posse gathered around him. He strung them out. For a moment it looked like Morocco’s Abdalaati Iguider was his greatest threat, but Farah saw him off. Then Longosiwa came with his challenge but Farah was too strong. Now Gebremeskel kicked and tried to reel in the leader but he couldn’t do it. Farah wouldn’t let him. Lord, this was majestic stuff. The utter defiance, the point-blank refusal to be caught was breathtaking. Farah ran 52.94sec for that last lap. Sporting immortality was achieved here last night.
“It’s just unbelievable,” said Farah. “I had a lot of confidence going into the race. In the heat I didn’t feel so good. I knew I just had to hold on and got great support from the crowd. The support of the crowd really helped me in the straight. It means a lot to me. Anything is possible. It’s just about hard work and grafting.”
Farah went to be with his family. His pregnant wife, Tania, is about to deliver a double of her own next week – she’s expecting twins –and their daughter, Rihanna. He draped himself in the Union flag and smiled that killer smile. Everybody wanted a piece of him. Everybody. This was the boy who came to this country from war-torn Somalia at the age of eight and with barely a word of English, a boy who struggled through early life and found solace in athletics. The sport saved him. Gave his life structure. Put him on the path to greatness. Farah is the embodiment of what these Games are supposed to be about. The motto is ‘Inspire A Generation’. Surely nothing inspires quite like Farah’s story, his epic journey to this momentous place.
“Those two medals are to my two girls that are coming,” he said of his unborn children. “They’re twins so there’s one for each. They could arrive any day.” It wasn’t the time to talk about the future but he went there anyway. “I don’t know what’s going on. I’m taking one race at a time. The Olympics doesn’t come round often. It’s all worked out well. I’m just amazed. Two gold medals – who would have thought that? I just want to thank everyone who’s supported me. All my coaches from previous years and all the people who’ve been involved in my life. I can’t thank everybody enough. I want to say particularly to my wife, with her carrying twins, it hasn’t been easy but I didn’t want to know about it. If anything happened she promised she wouldn’t let me know so I’m glad it all worked out well.”
Farah’s mate and rival, the American Galen Rupp, second to Farah in the 10,000m and seventh last night, spoke for the field when he paid tribute to an extraordinary individual. “Everybody’s gunning for him and looking for ways to beat him and I think to be able to have such a great two races in front of your home fans, it’s huge. There’s obviously a lot of pressure on him and he did a great job of handling it and just executed better than anybody else.”
Was Farah’s double the greatest achievement in British athletic history? You’d have to say yes. What Farah did here was join the pantheon of the finest distance runners there’s ever been. Before last night only six men had ever done the 5,000m and 10,000m double at the same Games and look what names we are talking about: Kenenisa Bekele, one of the most decorated wonders in athletics and double-winner in Beijing four years ago; Miruts Yifter, the ageless and relentless icon of Moscow in 1980; Lasse Viren, the ultimate Flying Finn in Munich in 1972 and Montreal in 1976; Vladimir Kuts, the teak-tough army officer in Melbourne in 1956; Emil Zatopek, the Locomotive of Helsinki in 1952; and Hannes Kolehmainen, one of the original Flying Finns from Stockholm in 1912.
Farah joins the legends now. He overcame tiredness and a stellar cast of Africans, but his life story tells us that he overcame much more than that. The everyday hero did it again. The nice guy finished first.
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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