Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Column: Gold-chaser Farah escapes Olympic buzz
Farewell London. Hello Portland, Oregon.
Mo Farah has left his world behind so he can focus on his Olympic rendezvous this August. Family, friends, the London football club -- Arsenal -- he adores are thousands of miles and many time zones away, a self-imposed exile which suits the 5,000-meter world champion just fine.
"In America, here, you just train, you just eat, train, and just get on with training," Farah says. "It worked out well, to be away from everything else, and I can just concentrate on my running and be away from all the media and everything else."
For "everything else," read "great expectations." Farah goes to the London Olympics as one of Britain's brightest stars. The Olympic host nation welcomed him when he was a skinny boy from Somalia with very little command of English. Now it is looking to him for at least one medal, ideally gold. There'll likely be consternation and mourning if he doesn't produce one. England expects.
It's pressure Farah is doing his best to ignore. So determined is he to avoid energy-sapping distractions and not get swept up by the Olympic excitement building in Britain that he plans to do no more interviews before the games unless obligated. A 20-minute chat on a scratchy trans-Atlantic telephone line with The Associated Press was scheduled to be his last.
"It's great to have the Olympics right on our doorstep and it's just important that you take that advantage and I'm looking forward to it," Farah said. "But at the same time, I'm not putting a lot of pressure on myself. I think there's a lot of pressure from everything else but as long as you don't put pressure on yourself, I believe there's no pressure."
"I just want to be able to concentrate on my running and that's it. I don't want to be able to miss training or miss my sleep in the afternoon or make time," he said. "What got me here is my running and it's important that I do 100 percent concentrate on my running, on rest and sleep."
Farah's father, Muktar, was born in London and had his son join him when he was age 8. Mo is short for Mohamed.
"Some people go, 'Mo, Mo, what's Mo ... Morris?" he said. "For the TV people, it's kind of easier to say Mo than Mohamed."
After his win in the 5,000 and silver in the 10,000 last year at the worlds in Daegu, South Korea, Farah took his wife, Tania, and their daughter on their first visit to Somalia. The poverty they saw there jolted them to start the charitable Mo Farah Foundation to build wells and supply food.
"We were like, 'We've got to do something," he said. "Them kids haven't got nothing to eat, haven't got clean water or anything."
Like other Muslim athletes, Farah will face a challenge in that the London Olympics will coincide with Ramadan, the annual Islamic holy month of dawn-to-dusk fasting. Farah didn't want to discuss whether he, too, will fast. He would only say that it shouldn't hurt his racing.
"It shouldn't do. As an athlete, I've done it in the past," he said.
Britain has had Olympic success in middle-distance running. London Games organizer Sebastian Coe won the 1,500 gold at the 1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. But no British man or woman has been Olympic champion in either the 5,000 and 10,000.
Farah not only could be the first, but is eyeing a chance to win both races. The 10,000 is Aug. 4. After that, he plans to see how he feels about doubling up. The first round of the 5,000 is Aug. 8, with the final three days later.
He'll have to run more intelligently than in Daegu. In the 10,000, Farah powered away on the final lap only to be reeled back on the last straight by the winner Ibrahim Jeilan, who had the faster sprint-finish. Farah's sideways, openmouthed look of helpless desperation as the Ethiopian clawed past him 30 meters out produced some dramatic photos.
Consolation for Farah came a week later with his world title in the 5,000. In London, Farah will have to avoid mistakes. To get him there in tiptop shape, Farah is leaning on the coach he left London last year to be with, Alberto Salazar. Salazar won three consecutive New York City marathons from 1980-1982 and is the brains behind an Oregon-based project to develop runners who can challenge Ethiopia and Kenya's hold over distance events.
Salazar is a proponent of high-tech training gizmos. Farah sometimes sleeps in a tent that mimics the effects of living at altitude to boost performance and uses underwater treadmills meant to allow athletes to train longer and harder with less risk of injury. He also goes to Kenya to train at altitude.
"The reason why I've changed from my old coach and moved to the other side of the world is like I've been there as an athlete, coming sixth and seventh and I just wanted to make a 1 or 2 percent difference," Farah said.
"The last couple of years, I've been sort of behind the medal -- half a second, a second, a second and a half -- and this year I've been pretty much sort of just there, literally like winning, and I've won by a second or a second and a half. That's been the difference."
But the word that really springs to mind to describe Farah is dedication. Over the phone, he sounds almost monkish in his pursuit of Olympic success.
"I'm training. I'm 100 percent heads down. I'm going away to high-altitude training, the camps, I'm not even hardly around my family," he said. "I'm away from everything."
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester