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Issue 444 -- July 31- Aug 06, 2010
Mo Farah's Ripple Effect Spreads Golden Ambitions
Someone In The Crowd Threw Him A Somaliland Flag
Barcelona, Spain, July 31, 2010 – Sitting down reflecting on their achievements in Barcelona's Olympic stadium the night before, Mo Farah and Chris Thompson could still not quite believe it. Farah, Britain's first European gold medalist in the 10,000m, is a huge Arsenal fan and news filtered through that a congratulatory message from the club was winging its way to him.
"A message from Arsenal?" Farah said, his eyes popping. "No way! The two most prized possessions in my house are an Arsenal shirt signed by all the players, which means a lot to me, and also my gold medal from the European indoors in Turin, which I have framed."
Arsenal are not the only big names to get in touch. Last night Paula Radcliffe rang to offer her congratulations and there is a wave of excitement running through the old guard of British greats Brendan Foster and Sebastian Coe.
Farah will have to make room for one more gong on his sitting room wall and perhaps after the disappointments he has faced in his career – twice collapsing at cross-country events in the winter – this gold will mean the most.
"It hasn't been easy, year in, year out," said Farah, who won his first junior title at the Europeans in 2001. "In Beijing I had a lot of doubts when I didn't make the final. Then to come back again – as an athlete you go through a lot of injuries and a lot of ups and downs."
Farah looked past the rows of press to his wife, Nell, and five-year-old daughter, Rihanna, and thanked them for their support. "To let me go up in the mountains [altitude training] for five and six weeks. For her [Nell] to let me deal with the problems, whatever they are, when I get home; just let me get on with it. And for her not to despair..." he said. "Last night when I crossed that line it was that feeling I had. I can't describe it."
A grounded man, he has retained a strong friendship with the PE teacher who encouraged him to swap football for athletics and helped with visas when Farah arrived as a refugee from Somalia in 1993, and the 27-year-old is not one to forget his roots. On Tuesday night, as he jumped around on the Barcelona track, delirious in celebration, someone in the crowd threw him a Somaliland flag.
"It's a part of Somalia now trying to be recognized as a republic," said Farah, who left the country behind as he tried to build a new life in the UK. "They've just got a new government. I was chucked the flag and I thought: 'Yeah, OK.' There's a lot of people in the UK from Somalia who've followed me."
As Farah paid tribute to those who have helped him along the way, Thompson, the 29-year-old silver medalist who has been plagued with injury for most of his senior career, also gave thanks. "If there wasn't a Mo during my struggling period, I may not have been where I am today," he said. "It has a ripple effect. It just takes one or two people to start pushing those boundaries and people think 'wow'.
"I do think that what happened yesterday will have an effect on the distance-running community and show that sometimes it's just a matter of believing. With five laps to go, everything was telling me I wasn't going to come second until eventually I crossed the line, and that came from all those hard times when you had to tell yourself you can do it."
That same belief will be needed for both athletes to push on and truly attack on the world stage. For all that Farah has achieved, winning a European indoor title and the European cross-country championships, he has it all to do at a global level. "I believe I can," he said. "I finished sixth in the world indoors, sixth in the outdoor [world championships in Osaka in 2007]. I am there or thereabouts. Last year I was a second outside a medal [at the Berlin world championships]. If I keep working hard I believe my time will come. I've got to mix it with these guys. This is what I have to do.
"Now 2012 is just round the corner. We can build on this year, go to the worlds, get to 2012, and then from there, who knows? We have to keep on what we're doing." That starts with the 5,000m heats tomorrow evening and leads, hopefully, to another chance for both athletes to double their glory in the final on Saturday night.