MO FARAH was the star of the opening day of the World Athletics Championships in Moscow, winning the 10,000 metres to put the seal on his status as the greatest current men’s distance runner and, according to no less an authority than Sebastian Coe, the greatest ever from Great Britain.
The presence of Farah and Usain Bolt, in action in the 100 metres heats, wasn’t enough to attract Muscovites, with the Luzhniki stadium barely half-full, but Farah didn’t care about empty seats, only unfinished business. He is the Olympic champion at the distance he tackled last night, but his defeat in the world title race in Daegu, in 2011, has continued to rankle.
On that occasion, he was pipped on the line by Ibrahim Jeilan of Ethiopia, and history seemed to be repeating here at the end of an erratic race in which Farah spent the first six laps last. In the huge, 35-man field, that meant around 25 metres from front to back.
Farah bridged that gap with one surge on the seventh lap, hitting the front – to try to slow it down, he claimed later – then drifting back to hover around the first six. Paul Kipngetich of Kenya was the long-time frontrunner, but the pace he set wasn’t enough to disrupt Farah’s gameplan. That seemed to involve Galen Rupp, the American who is also coached by Alberto Salazar.
Rupp, who eventually finished a disappointed fourth, got in the way of the Ethiopians and Kenyans who were trying to avoid carrying Farah to the last few laps, where he could use his devastating finish. “Mo and I talked beforehand about working together,” said Rupp. “We always try and find each other in these races and there’s a level of comfort when we’re running together. It helps having a team-mate in there.”
With four laps to go there were still 15 in a crowded front group, and Farah accelerated once again to the front, catching his foot and almost stumbling, but recovering his composure to take it on with 1,500m left.
And then, on the final bend, came Jeilan. Farah kept glancing anxiously over his shoulder, Jeilan kept coming, and Farah urged himself on, mouth open, yelling – it looked like “Yes, Yes, Yes,” though he said afterwards that he couldn’t remember – as he charged down the home straight. The gap held and finally Farah was able to lift his hands, open his mouth and slap his head, in trademark fashion, about five metres from the end.
“I had the experience from two years ago,” said Farah. “I knew I just had to cover every move and the guys were going to go out there to take a lot out of me. I was just digging in, digging in.”
Bolt had his own Daegu flashback when, in the 100m quarter-finals, the sprinter in the lane alongside him, Kemar Hyman of the Cayman Islands, false-started. A similar incident led to Bolt being disqualified before the final two years ago, but he kept his concentration, settled again in the blocks, and won in a leisurely 10.07. The Americans Mike Rodgers and Justin Gatlin were fastest qualifiers, in 9.98 and 9.99, but the British sprinter James Dasaolu, who ran 9.91 at the British championships, scraped through by a hundredth of a second as a fastest qualifier.
Eilish McColgan was one of two Scottish athletes in action on day one, and she broke the Scottish record on her way to qualifying for the final of the 3,000m steeplechase. “To run a personal best after the last eight weeks that I’ve had is absolutely unbelievable,” said McColgan, who has been struggling with injury.
“I’ve only managed to run twice a week and everything else is in the pool or on the cross trainer,” continued McColgan. “The team who were out with me at the holding camp will tell you I spent an awful lot of time in that pool. I couldn’t have asked for anything more today.”
The contrasts at these championships were illustrated by Farah and Bolt, the superstars of track and field, and Susan Partridge, the 33-year-old Scottish runner who finished an excellent tenth in the marathon, held at 2pm, apparently for the benefit of Japanese TV.
That exposed the competitors to torrid heat, on a course that offered no shelter, but Partridge’s performance was measured and perfectly judged as she moved through the field to improve upon her 24th place finish two years ago. The conditions, which Partridge called “brutal,” meant that 22 of the 68 starters dropped out.
“It was about placing rather than time,” said Partridge, who finished in 2.36.24, 11 minutes behind winner Edna Kiplagat of Kenya. “I started way back,” continued Partridge, “and for a minute, I did wonder, have I been a bit too cautious here?”
Her first progress report was that she was 43rd. “I could have done without knowing that, but I moved up, into the top 20, 17th, then up to 14th. That felt good.”
Partridge confirmed that next year she will miss the Europeans to focus on the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Only one Commonwealth athlete finished ahead of her, the winner, and so Partridge has good reason to be optimistic. “I’m really pleased I’ve managed to perform again,” she said. “I’ve qualified and generally speaking I deliver at the championships.”
What makes that so remarkable is that she holds down a job as well as an international running career. It meant she missed the holding camp for these championships, and will fly home on Monday to return to work at the University of Leeds, where she does research into joint replacements. “My work are good at giving me time off,” she said. “But I don’t want to take the mickey.”