Mo Farah is the first athlete to win the 5,000 and 10,000m races at successive world championships
The ‘triple-double’: it is a coinage usually confined to basketball, but in Beijing it belongs to the extraordinary Mo Farah, who for a record third successive global championships has completed twin triumphs over 5,000 and 10,000 metres. None of the distance icons – not Emil Zatopek, not Lasse Viren, not Kenenisa Bekele – managed it, but Farah streaked into history at the Bird’s Nest stadium with another exquisitely controlled performance over 12½ laps.
At the culmination of a season in which Farah has found his reputation questioned as never before, it was a compelling rebuke. Since his 5,000m gold in Daegu in 2011 he has been a champion beyond compare, reeling off an unprecedented seven successive victories, including glorious double distance titles in London, Moscow and now Beijing. Once more he prevailed in signature style, with an unanswerable late turn of speed to cover the final 800 metres in 1 min 48.6 sec.
— British Athletics (@BritAthletics) August 29, 2015
While his overall time of 13 min 50.38 sec did not bother any record-compilers, the slow burn of the race was a tribute to the manner in which Farah had the field at his mercy.
The anticipated tactical masterclass from the Kenyan contingent, desperate to end the Briton’s supremacy, never materialised. Caleb Mwangangi Ndiku made an optimistic break with 400 metres to go, but Farah never let him surge more than a few strides clear before unleashing his sprint finish.
If anything, Farah celebrated with even greater abandon than at the climax of the 10,000m, spreading his arms wide and screaming deliriously. For the first time, his family have missed being in attendance for his major wins, with wife Tania at home in Oregon as she expects the couple’s third child.
Their absence, coupled with the remorseless scrutiny that Farah has faced over his association with coach Alberto Salazar, has heightened the impact of the achievement.
He performed a thumb-sucking gesture for the benefit of the cameras, disclosing that the unborn was to be a boy, a “little Mo”. The maelstrom of emotions drew Farah into an acknowledgement that his past eight days in Beijing rivalled even the peak of London 2012 in his mental scrapbook.
“This double is probably as close to the Olympics as can be,” he said. “I’ve had a tough year, and to put everything behind me and focus on myself hasn’t been easy. With success comes a lot of obstacles.”
There ought to be a plethora of honours, too. Within minutes of his win, the Prime Minister sent a congratulatory tweet describing Farah, infelicitously, as “our greatest middle-distance runner”. Perhaps it was just a momentary confusion with his friend Sebastian Coe. Either way, the sentiment seemed sincere, portending what could be a New Year’s knighthood.
Arise, Sir Mo? There have been far stranger candidates, and Farah was wide-eyed as he considered the possibility. “Seriously? It would be incredible, wouldn’t it. We’ll see.”
At his present rate of accumulation, Farah must rethink not merely the dimensions of his trophy cabinet – “I might need to get a bigger house” – but his place among Britain’s sporting aristocracy.
Brendan Foster described him as “our greatest sportsman”, an accolade that prompted Farah to compare himself, rather endearingly, to David Beckham. A full reckoning on his stature might have to wait until the conclusion of the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s inquiry into his links with Salazar.
Even though Farah is not suspected of any wrongdoing, the lurid allegations made about Salazar’s practices by former athletes, which the coach vigorously disputes, have cast a shadow that will only lift when a full report is published. It is easy to forget that less than a month ago, Farah was being interrogated for five hours by Bill Bock, the US lawyer who helped engineer the downfall of Lance Armstrong. A resolution cannot come soon enough.
At least Farah’s continued brilliance on the track mitigates the stress of the wait. For all the talk of a Kenyan strategy to unsettle him, he proved to be as wise as ever, allowing British team-mate Tom Farrell to set the early pace before drifting to the front to wage his battle with Ndiku.
It was, ultimately, a one-sided contest, as Farah completed the closing two laps in a time that equalled his 12-year-old personal best for 800m.
Ever since the majestic denouements to his wins in London, there has been nobody to hold a candle to him in a crazed dash for the line.
Established as the finest endurance runner ever at World Championships, Farah reflected: “It’s an amazing thing to do. I could never have thought about it seven years ago. I remember Bekele winning everything and thinking, ‘If he could only give me one’. I always felt in control of this race. I could see that Ndiku was running too smoothly, so I was looking at him thinking, ‘This guy is going a bit too hard here.’ Coming into the straight, I thought I had him.”
He was not mistaken, as he swept past Ndiku in a blur, still accelerating as he raced through the line before kissing the track in relief. Even Farah, it emerged, had been susceptible to a little pre-race anxiety. “It means so much to me,” he said. “For the first time in a while I had been nervous. But you have to stay focused, stay on your feet. My message to all the kids out there is: You can be like me. One day we will find the next Mo.”
The real Farah had returned, exhorting the next generation and guilelessly referring to himself in the third person.
It was difficult to believe this was the man who, earlier this summer, had made an anguished retreat from a scheduled race in Birmingham, lamenting that his good name was being dragged through the mud amid the Salazar conjecture. A few weeks of attention-avoiding later, he is a double world champion again. Not that his sacrifices, made during his notoriously intense summer training camp at Font-Romeu in the Pyrenees, are without a personal toll.
His daughter Amani, he disclosed, saw him so rarely that she was now convinced he lived somewhere else. “As parents, you don’t want to be away so much,” Farah said. “It hurts sometimes. The other day, Amani said to me, ‘Daddy, I am coming to your home’. She thinks I have got another house. How do you explain that to your kids? I am so looking forward to spending time with my girls. I just want to go home now.”
After this latest blaze into immortality, few would begrudge him that simple pleasure.