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Issue 455 -- Oct 16 - 22, 2010
This Much I Know: Mo Farah
The athlete, 27, on training with Kenyans, learning English from scratch, and how marriage has changed him
The African running culture is completely different to the British one. Out there everyone runs, no matter who. Here everyone knows about football and we're all talking about the Premiership, but there they are always talking about athletics.
I was born in Mogadishu, but I grew up in Djibouti. My first memory is of running around and playing football there when I was three or four.
I had to learn English from scratch. I remember wanting to communicate with people and not being able to – and that was not the easiest thing.
I remember arriving in Britain aged eight and seeing my father.That was the most exciting thing: realising I was going to spend years with him. Growing up, I'd never seen enough of him – he was an IT consultant who worked in Britain – and once I was here I just thought: "Oh yes, I'm going to get to be close to him."
Training with Kenyans in the Rift Valley has taught me about dedication. They eat, sleep and train – that's all. I learned there are no shortcuts. You're lucky in England if there are two guys at the track with you. In Kenya you turn up to train, there's 50 or 60 guys, and they're all pushing each other.
I'm a Muslim, so I observe the five pillars of Islam. During Ramadan fasting isn't always the easiest thing for a sportsman. It's quite difficult to fit it in with your training. But that's what you have to do. You learn self-control.
I became a sportsman through watching TV. I remember watching football and wanting to play for Arsenal. I really believed I would, as well.
My PE teacher at high school saw that I was good at running and wanted to introduce me to the local running club. I used to make excuses, and he bribed me, really: "If you go, I'll let you have half an hour kickabout beforehand in the gym."
It's really important that kids get more active. We need to point them in the right direction, like my PE teacher did for me.
Paula Radcliffe's my inspiration. She's easy to approach and she really supported me. In Gothenburg at the 2006 European Championships [in the 5000m] she said to me as I warmed up: "Just be strong, be brave and do the best you can."
That race was so close. I took silver, but there was less than half a second in it. When I was in the back straight in this year's European Championships final I was in exactly the same position – the guy's right behind me, threatening to overtake – and I was wondering: is it going to be a repeat of four years ago? So crossing the line to win gold was unbelievable.
I get really excited thinking about the London Olympics, but as an athlete I need to take one race at a time. What's most important for me now is that I stay focused.
I got married this summer and at the end of our honeymoon we couldn't fly back because of the volcano ash. We were stranded in Nairobi for four days and I was losing fitness and worrying about the European Championships. So I had to go up to the mountains to train. It wasn't easy sending my wife back home on her own.
Has marriage changed me? Well, I'm running faster. So it seems to be a good thing.
Source: The Observer
To read all the interviews in this series, go toguardian.co.uk/lifeandhealth/series/thismuchiknow