At the end of yet another hebdomadis horribilis for athletics, Mo Farah can only shrug helplessly and wish for a day when medals and times are more prominent than peddlers and grime. Today’s Great Edinburgh cross-country normally serves as an elegant starter to the calendar but, instead, it has become a course sandwiched into two inquiries into the sport that will inevitably engender further bouts of indigestible aggravation.
This week, corruption and blackmail. Next week? Likely extra helpings with a dash of doping thrown in, a storm all too familiar to the Olympic champion in the wake of the allegations that last year swirled around Alberto Salazar, his long-time coach, that questioned the probity of the methods employed at his base in Oregon.
Farah remains compelled to defend his own corner. “If anything were proven, I’m out. But other than that, I’ll just continue.” Such relentless affirmation takes its toll, he hints. “I want to be able to do what I do and enjoy it.” Back to a simpler time when all he was asked to do was turn up and run.
Yet the extent of recent revelations, much so far centred on Russia, has stunned even those on the inside. “It’s the truth, which is what’s out there,” Farah said. “And obviously something didn’t turn overnight. It is what it is but at the same time, in my sport I never want to see anything. I don’t think about that stuff. What really drives me, it’s being on the podium and winning medals and that’s why I love my sport and that’s why I am very passionate about it.”
Still supportive of Sebastian Coe’s attempts to reform the IAAF, and especially of an ambition to increase the number of drug tests worldwide, he can contribute to the quest for redemption with further heroism on the track during a summer that will present the chance for an unprecedented defence of his Olympic 5000 and 10000-metre titles.
From Edinburgh, where he spearheads a British team against the best of Europe and the USA in Holyrood this afternoon, the 32-year-old will fly to Ethiopia for a three-week spell at altitude that he trusts will propel him to fresh heights. In Beijing last August, his pre-eminence was threatened but not toppled as he extended his tally of world golds to five. His pursuers will return emboldened and the master is not immune to the pressure exerted. “If I said no I would be lying,” he smiles. “But it’s what you can and can’t do. You can only do what you are capable of. Nowadays, though, people expect you to do the double.”
He will pace himself steadily to save energies for Brazil. There will be an appearance inside Glasgow’s Emirates Arena next month but the temptation to chase a world indoor crown, even near his home in Portland, has proven resistible.
“If it was here in Birmingham or somewhere in the UK it would be different. I’d definitely want to compete indoors because it’s only the 3000m and it doesn’t take a lot out of you. But at the same time, I just feel that last year I knew I was in top shape. I wasn’t going to tell you guys that I was going for the world record, so it all depends. Now it’s a lot harder. I can’t just go into any race. You’ve got to be ready.”
Holyrood, with its testing slopes and teasing crags, might underline that his quiet optimism is well-placed. A winner here in 2011, he will get a formidable examination from Garrett Heath of the USA and Spain’s Alemayehu Bezabeh, while Scottish duo Andy Butchart and Callum Hawkins, like their compatriots in the women’s race Beth Potter and Jo Moultrie, have pedigree on the turf.
For all, just nine days into the New Year, these are the trials they hope will bear fruit come the Olympics.
“It all just depends on how you get there,” Farah affirms. “You might have a niggle or be ill so you can’t think now that it’s going to happen clearly. Who knows what’s going to happen? I want to go out there and defend my two titles.” That familiar grin appears. “I’ve got a good feeling about 2016.”