Storm Hannah may have blown over but the clouds hanging over Sir Mo Farah have stubbornly refused to dissipate. As he prepared for Sunday’s London marathon, he has been on the front pages and the back, accused of starting a “brawl” with another athlete, getting shirty with a gym instructor for “copying his routine” and not paying a hotel bill.
To make matters worse he has also faced renewed questions over his relationship with the controversial coach Jama Aden, who faces doping charges by Spanish police, as well as more negative stories in Sunday’s papers. And yet, as Farah prepares to line up for the London Marathon, he is convinced he can do better than last year, when he finished third on a broiling hot day.
That might sound ridiculous given his PR week from hell – mostly self-inflicted given Farah kicked it off by revealing an alleged theft at Haile Gebrselassie’s hotel and chiding the Ethiopian legend for not helping him – but it is rooted in a certain logic.
Farah believes he is stronger than last year, despite turning 36 last month. He insists he has more marathon smarts, too. He argues his victory in the Chicago Marathon in October will ensure he isn’t “bullied” on the start line as he believes he was last year in London, a situation that left him without pacemakers from the gun.
“Last year it was a crazy thing where Eliud [Kipchoge] and his team demanded the pace of the race,” he said. “I thought there might be a few guys asking for a slower pace. But I looked around and nobody was there.
“I was the underdog, I was learning, it was new. But having finished third and having won Chicago, I definitely have more cards to play. I think I have slightly more power when it comes to pacemakers.”
Last April Kipchoge and Farah both went through halfway in 61 minutes, an unsustainable pace as temperatures climbed towards the mid 20s celsius, and towards the end of the race Farah understandably suffered. “If you go for a higher pace you do pay the price,” he admitted. “At the same time, I believe I have learned, I am a lot stronger.”
The rumour mill suggests that Kipchoge will aim to reach 13.1 miles in 61min 20sec, putting him within a shout of his world record 2:01.39 or, more realistically, breaking his own London Marathon course record of 2:03.05. Farah has not indicated that he can run so quickly but has suggested he is capable of running two hours and four minutes, which would break his own European record.
“I wake up in the morning and I feel hungrier and nervous,” Farah said. “When you turn up for track, you win so many times, you get used to that. I’m not used to that feeling in the marathon. I feel like I have got my mojo back.”
But while Farah talks a good game, the contrast between his buildup and Kipchoge’s has been impossible to ignore. While the British star has gone into an almighty battle over £2,600 cash, two mobile phones and a watch given to him by his wife Tania, his Kenyan rival, known for his Spartan lifestyle, has largely kept under the radar, readying himself for the challenge ahead.
When one reporter asked him why he had not changed at all since becoming a multimillionaire, Kipchoge looked puzzled. “What do you mean change?” he asked. The reply came back: “When many people become successful they like the fast life, the big cars and the big houses. You have stayed monastic?”
Kipchoge nodded and thought about his answer. “Being humble is the way to live,” he said eventually. “Being humble is the way to succeed and perform well. The moment you are high, that’s when you fall down.”
Intriguingly – after confirming that he still cleans his toilets at his training camp – the 34-year-old also hinted that he had not given up on his dream of running under two hours for a marathon in specially controlled conditions.
“Absolutely yes it can be done,” he said. “Maybe me, maybe not, but other people are capable in the future. I tried and got 2:00.25 but I always say it is only 25 seconds away. That is all I missed it by. That is not really far.”
But Kipchoge, who has won 11 of the 12 marathons he has raced, insisted his main goal is to inspire others to live better lives through his achievements. “I want to leave a positive legacy, to inspire all generations on this planet, to know that running is a way to get freedom,” he said. “The whole world can run more. Enjoy running and become healthy and well.”
It was a wholesome message on a marathon week dominated by an unseemly spat and Friday’s news that Abraham Kiptum, the reigning world half-marathon record holder, had been suspended due to a doping violation. Organisers will be hoping that Monday’s headlines will focus on the race. Most of us, however, believe the Mo and Haile show is yet to reach its final act.
Head to head Kipchoge v Farah
Marathons run 12 3
Marathons won 11 1
Marathon best 2:01:39 2:05:11
Marathon debut 2:05:30 2:08:21
Olympic titles 1 4
World titles 1 6
10,000 PB 26:09:42 26:46:57
5,000 PB 12:46:53 12:53:11