Mo Farah’s controversial week is unlikely to affect his marathon focus | Sean Ingle

Haile Gebrselassie row will not distract Briton on Sunday although the presence of world record holder Eliud Kipchoge makes victory in London a tall order

All marathon runners know that the week before the big race is about tapering, taking your foot off the gas, and avoiding all unnecessary stress. This week, however, Mo Farah has not so much gone off-piste as paraglided off the mountain. Not only was he twice spat out of a fast-moving treadmill on Wednesday, risking injury in the process, but he then employed surely the most unconventional public relations strategy since Gerald Ratner called his watches “crap” by engaging in a corrosive war of words with Haile Gebrselassie.

For most mortals, days of negative headlines following his decision to call out the Ethiopian legend for allegedly ignoring his pleas for help after a theft at his hotel, would play deeply on their minds. Yet Farah’s coach, Gary Lough, insists the extraordinary public spat could actually help him in Sunday’s London Marathon.

“It’s perhaps not the way I would have liked the theft to come out, but it had been really bothering Mo and no one was taking him seriously,” Lough told the Guardian. “And, actually I think it is a good thing that he got it off his chest. Genuinely, there is no way this is going to affect his race.”

History suggests that Lough might just be right. After all, Farah has faced a barrage of negative publicity several times before and almost always used it to fire himself to greater glories.

Remember 2017, when the Russian hackers Fancy Bears leaked a document, purportedly from the International Association of Athletics Federations, which suggested that one of its experts had initially suspected Farah of “likely doping” because of his athlete biological passport before he was cleared?

World record holder Eliud Kipchoge is Mo Farah’s main competition in London
World record holder Eliud Kipchoge is Mo Farah’s main competition in London. Photograph: John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images

After emphatically denying the story, Farah ended up crushing his rivals at the Anniversary Games a few days later – before going on to secure world 10,000m gold and 5,000m silver in London the following month.

Or the 2016 Olympics, when Farah endured an awkward press conference where he was quizzed about the nature of his friendship with Jama Aden, the Somali coach who was being investigated for doping offences by the Spanish police? A week later he powered away to add the 5,000m gold medal to his 10,000m title.

And then there was the BBC Panorama documentary in 2015 which alleged that his then coach Alberto Salazar had engaged in unethical practices – which the American has always strenuously denied. True, Farah skipped the subsequent Birmingham Diamond League meeting after a terse press conference. But he still went on to win world 5,000m and 10,000m gold that year.

While most athletes would wilt under the pressure, Farah appears unfazed by a little grit in the machine. “I just love competing,” he said. “I just love that feeling. In 2015‑16 I wasn’t getting it as much from the track. That’s why I had to change. It’s just part of me. It’s the winning and the pressure I like. The pressure never gets as much as on the track but having dealt with London last year it’s like: ‘I like this.’”

More telling still, Farah also claims that, despite turning 36 last month, he has “got his mojo back” and is relishing the prospect of taking on the world record holder, Eliud Kipchoge. “I am up for the fight and a challenge,” he said. “I am hungry again. I want to fight. When you win on the track so many times it’s not the same. This is new territory – Eliud, the crowd, London. It’s exciting. I am not thinking about titles, I am thinking about the race. I believe I am capable of winning.”

However Farah, who built on a third place in last year’s race by winning in Chicago in October, conceded this was the “moment of truth” for his ambitions to run the marathon at either the world championships in Doha in September or next year’s Olympics. “I’m facing the best of the best,” he said. “We should not just talk about me and Eliud because it’s the rest of the guys, too.”

Few would disagree with that analysis. After all, seven athletes in the field have faster PBs than Farah - including two dangerous Ethiopians, Shura Kitata, second last year, and Leul Gebrselassie, who ran 2 hours 4 mins 02 secs in his debut marathon in 2018. However Abraham Kiptum, the reigning world half marathon record holder, is out of the race after being suspended on Friday due to a doping violation.

Reacting to the news, event director Hugh Brasher said: “We have a zero-tolerance policy on doping. Cheats will be caught and there is no place for them in marathon running.”

Kipchoge, of course, remains the man to beat after his world record of 2:01:39 in Berlin last September. But he concedes that he will be keeping a watchful eye on Farah. “He is a fast learner,” he admitted. “And absolutely he can beat me - that is what sport is.” Even so, it would be a major surprise if, after a week’s headlines about an Englishman and an Ethiopian, the brilliant Kenyan doesn’t emerge triumphant again.


Sean Ingle

The GuardianTramp

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