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Mo Farah: I can make history in Tokyo and win 10,000m gold at the age of 37

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 14/01/2020 MATT MAJENDIE
© Provided by Evening Standard

Switching on the television at his Arizona training base in October, Mo Farah knew almost immediately and instinctively that the Chicago Marathon at the end of that week would be his last for the foreseeable future.

Tuning into the 10,000metres final at the World Championships was when the 36-year-old first realised he had unfinished business with the track, despite his four Olympic gold medals and six world titles.

“Watching Doha, I was nervous and agitated,” he recalled. “I felt like I was there. My heart was pounding and I was looking at that race thinking, ‘I know I could do it, I want to do it’, and the Olympics is just round the corner. I knew from that point that I’d love to go back and race that.

REUTERS/Mike Segar © Getty REUTERS/Mike Segar

“As an athlete it’s important if you’re still hungry and you want it, you train for it, you push yourself to get it. If you’re not hungry, you don’t want it as much, then it’s impossible to get it. And right now I have a great hunger for the track.”

So adamant was Farah about the switch that his coach, Gary Lough, who is continuing to oversee his track ambitions, did not even attempt to talk him round. As Farah puts it: “Gary knew from that point that nothing else mattered.”

So accustomed was Farah to winning on the track that his stab at the marathon has been frustrating. There have been notable highs — winning in Chicago in 2018 and breaking the European record — but too often he has been found wanting to his East African rivals and admitted to struggling to rectify wrongs on the road, such are the rigours of the event.

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) © Getty (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

“If a track race goes wrong, you know what went wrong, whether it’s your endurance or speed or whatever, you can work it out and then focus on it in training,” he said. “Then you race again in two weeks’ time and you do something about it. With the marathon, it’s sixth months. Take Chicago. I got injured beforehand, had a little niggle and the race was a disaster really. Having run so many track races in the past and with Tokyo around the corner, you go for what you knew best.”

It helps that the 10,000m has not moved on monstrously in his absence, Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei winning the world title in a time just a second quicker than Farah’s track swansong of the same distance at the preceding championships in 2017.

“There’s no one out there that has you saying ‘Oh, my God’ but in the marathon it’s different,” he said with a nod not just to the distance’s dominant force in Eliud Kipchoge but his wider rivals. “My understanding is I can’t finish in the top three in Tokyo with 2:05.”

REUTERS/Maria Alejandra Cardona © Reuters REUTERS/Maria Alejandra Cardona

But Farah will be the oldest man in history to run in a 10,000m final at the Olympics, let alone have aspirations to win a fifth Olympic gold. But, for him, it is the only target in his eyes. “It’s gold or nothing,” he said. “No one’s ever done that — someone that old — and that’s history. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it and work hard. I’m confident, otherwise I wouldn’t enter, but I know I’ve a lot of work to do. I can’t sit here saying, ‘It’s January and all’s good’. It’s going to be really hard. People will be saying, ‘Mo’ll win it’ but it doesn’t work like that.”

Even were he to win gold, he is adamant it would never top the two titles at London 2012, running in front of his home crowd. But it is a repeat of that idea that lit the touch paper for a return.

“I miss that noise,” he said. “With 75,000 people cheering you on, getting louder and louder down the home straight, and then the British flag lifting. When I think of the Olympics, I think of London, and that drives you. You look back, see the footage, the look on your face, the big eyes, you’re looking for that again. If I win in Tokyo it will come a close second but nothing will ever beat London.”

a man talking on a cell phone: Eliud Kipchoge (REUTERS) © Provided by Evening Standard Eliud Kipchoge (REUTERS)

His attempt at gold will be his first at a major championships without Alberto Salazar, who coached Farah until 2017 but was banned for four years in October for doping offences after years of investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency.

Having had time to reflect, Farah wishes he had ended the relationship sooner.

“If that ban had happened sooner, I would have been the first one out,” he said. “I just wish that had come sooner. But I’ve been out of that for two years and working with Gary.”

Following the fall-out from the Salazar ban, two-time Olympic champion Kelly Holmes said there would always be “a cloud” over Farah and his results because of the association.

(Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images) © Getty (Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images)

In response, Farah said: “I don’t know if that’s how it’s viewed. All I can do is do what I do best and continue to win medals for my country and enjoy what I do. I’ve 100 per cent done it clean and all of my tests are there to be retested or anything. There’s been no wrongdoing by me. But my name has been brought into it. It’s a bit frustrating but I can understand that point as well. I just have to continue to do what I do and that’s running. When I’m on track, I’m the happiest kid. In life, that gets mixed up with other things and there are challenges. I get that but I still love my job.”

For now, that job is solely focused on Tokyo after which he has no plans to retire. Instead, he intends to shift his attention back to the marathon — and he has no regrets about his decision to pursue that discipline post-2017.

“In 2016 and 2017, was I hungry enough on the track?” he asked. “Probably not. I needed to change to the marathon, to step away. I don’t regret the marathon and I’ll come back to it, but what’s important in 2020? It’s the big one, the Olympics. I never want to think, ‘What if?’ I don’t want to think in my heart what if I’d done that. It all comes down to Tokyo now.”

Mo Farah is teaming up with Village Hotel Club and Youth Sport Trust to launch Mo’s Million Mile Challenge, calling on the nation to join him and complete a million miles until January 19 to raise vital funds for local schoolchildren.

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