THE spectre of Mo Farah and his relationship with Alberto Salazar hung over the Diamond League in Birmingham like a dark cloud, even after the double Olympic champion had opted to withdraw from the meeting in the wake of the allegations of doping and deceit surrounding his coach.
Front and centre on the bill, plastered all over the posters on all routes leading to the Alexander Stadium, he had initially decided to escape back to his base in Oregon late on Saturday night and had already left the building by 6am yesterday, forgoing a lucrative five-figure appearance fee and the chance to find a safe haven on the track.
Some felt staying away was an error of judgment. “It would have been the right thing to do [to run],” said former 1500m world record holder Steve Cram.
Yet having vigorously defended his reputation at an emotive press conference on Saturday, Farah is expected to meet Salazar this week with a litany of questions to pose.
A step removed from the whirlwind surrounding a man who famously provides information on a need to know basis, a brief return to the UK brought anything but joy.
“This week has been very stressful and taken a lot out of me,” he said, in a statement issued after his dawn departure. “I have not been able to focus properly on today’s race and after the events of the last few days feel emotionally and physically drained. I want to run well in the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Beijing and have decided it is better for me to go back to the US, seek answers to my questions and get back into training.”
Simultaneously, UK Athletics will be querying the nature of their own relationship with Salazar, an unpaid advisor to their endurance programme.
“We will be setting up the terms of reference for the internal audit into our oversight processes this week,” a spokesperson confirmed last night. It will be down to a committee compromising former athletes Jason Gardener, Sarah Rowell and Anne Wafula-Strike to review their pieces in this elaborate puzzle.
But it will solely encompass the checks and balances put in place to assure themselves that they, even by a secondary association, remain whiter than white.
Detailed examination of Salazar, however, will be the responsibility of the World Anti-Doping Agency and its American counterpart.
“I don’t think anyone would think it would be healthy for the sport to investigate itself,” a senior UKA source declared.
Yet the fall-out has not solely contaminated Project Oregon but others far removed. “It’s very difficult as an athlete,” European 400m hurdles champion Eilidh Child said. “You don’t like this kind of attention on our sport because obviously you want it to be very positive.
“But it’s going to be addressed and hopefully positive things come out of it at the end. We want our sport to be very clean. We don’t know what’s gone on. These are just allegations. Hopefully it’s not as bad as they think. But it means things are getting dealt with.”
With Jessica Ennis-Hill and Christine Ohuruogu among the other A-List Britons to have cried off ahead of the event, Child was among the domestic contingent under pressure to sprinkle some lustre. The Scot, 28, came fourth as her habitual nemesis Kaliese Spencer claimed victory, with Czech rival Zuzana Hejnova in third.
“It’s pretty stacked this year,” admitted Child, who will race again in Oslo on Thursday. “Last year it was pretty much just Kaliese and the rest of us. Now you’ve got Kaliese just a bit ahead but now there’s Hejnova and a lot of Americans, and a couple more too.”
Having joined Child in racing in Rome only 72 hours before, her fellow Perthshire product Laura Muir showed impressive resilience to lower her personal best to 2:00.42 in the 800m, coming second to Kenya’s omnipotent Commonwealth gold medallist Eunice Sum. “She’s miles out of my league at the moment,” Muir said. “I just knew I had to run my own race, no matter what the others did.”
Elsewhere, Jake Wightman and Luke Caldwell were 11th, respectively, in the men’s 1500m and 5000m, while their fellow Scot Steph Twell was ninth in the women’s 1500m in a season’s best of 4:10.90. And, while Olympic champion Greg Rutherford provided the lone British victory by prevailing in the long jump in a season’s best of 8.35m, the true focus fell on two of the country’s young sprinters.
Fresh from claiming the UK 100m record at the age of 19, Dina Asher-Smith moved into second place in the all-time rankings at 200m with a time of 22.30, despite coming third in a photo finish behind American pair Jeneba Tarmoh and Allyson Felix.
But there was joy and despair within a single stride for Adam Gemili, who became the first Brit to add a sub-ten second 100m to a sub-20 200m by running 9.97 secs in coming runner-up to the USA’s Marvin Bracy. The 21-year-old, claiming he was distracted by the finish line pyrotechnics, then stumbled and was stretchered off with a hamstring injury. Even minus Mo, drama to the end.
l Scottish cross-country champion Andrew Butchart marked his GB&NI track debut with 12th place at the European Cup 10,000m in Italy.