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Crucial lessons from Mo Farah

Saturday August 17 2013

PHOTO | YURI KADOBNOV Gold medalist Mo Farah of Great Britain poses with his daughter Rhianna on the podium during the medal ceremony for the men's 5000 metres at the 2013 IAAF World Championships at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on August 16, 2013.

PHOTO | YURI KADOBNOV Gold medalist Mo Farah of Great Britain poses with his daughter Rhianna on the podium during the medal ceremony for the men's 5000 metres at the 2013 IAAF World Championships at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on August 16, 2013. AFP

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Mo Farah's rise to the top provides a great lesson to Kenyans - that it’s no longer just the natural talent that carries the day in elite sports.

His humble beginnings as a Somali refugee, who migrated to England after briefly staying in Kenya, are not betrayed in the demeanour of the 30-year-old student of Alberto Salazar, the legendary, Cuban-American distance running coach who held American records in the 5,000m and 10,000m and crusied into the US marathon Hall of Fame with a hat-trick of victories in the New York Marathon (1980-82) and a 2:08.51 triumph in the '82 Boston Marathon.

Salazar is the "Fabrice Muamba of athletics". While training with some of his protégés at the Nike Oregon project in June, 2007, he suffered a heart attack and was pulseless for 14 minutes, clinically dead just like the Kinshasa-born former Bolton Wanderers star whose heart stopped beating for a massive 78 minutes during last year's FA Cup quarter-final against Spurs.

It took quick action by the 911 emergency response team that was called in by one of his protégés, Galen Rupp, who finished eight in the men's 5,000m final here on Friday.

Mo, who is Rupp's teammate, and the most decorated of Salazar's charges, loved every bit of his 5,000m and 10,000m races at the Luzhniki, breaking away, Houdini-style, from a four-pronged Kenyan straitjacket in the former, his winning time of 13:26.98 catapulting him to an exclusive club of World and Olympic 5/10 double champions alongside Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele.

Isaiah Kiplangat Koech dug in for a bronze, losing the silver by the thickness of a vest to Ethiopia's Hagos Gebrhiwet. Both had identical times of 13:27.26 with the Seiko timing system breaking if further through the photo finish system and handing silver to the Ethiopian by the milli-second.

It's hardly surprising that Mo won the double as his work ethic is one that must be emulated by Athletics Kenya and the Kenyan technical stuff if the losing streak in men's distance running must be stemmed.


Mo laid bare his cards, training hard early this season at Iten's High Altitude Training Centre, an impeccable facility run by Kenya-born Dutch multiple distance running champion Lornah Kiplagat, but which AK have taken little advantage of.

I remember spending some time with Mo at the camp and watching him go on hard runs, sweat out in the gym and stick to a carefully-prepared diet at the camp that for a few years now has been home to Team GB (Great Britain) athletes.

He told me he will be coming back to Iten for more training as he dives into the marathon next season, happy that the Kenyans disintegrated and failed to run as a team making his double a walk in the park.

The game plan was to go out fast and burn out Mo, but that didn't work and after 2,000 metres, Mo was rubbing his hands with glee, Koech's 400-metre splits for the 12 laps that yo-yoed between 60 and 69 seconds, (62.66, 64.57, 63.15, 61.28, 66.54, 69.96, 67.63, 62.98, 62.07, 64.02, 60.28 and 55.23) hardly the stuff that could burn out Mo.

The Kenyans were in a Tower of Babbel, unable to work as a team to their advantage against the Somali-born Lone Ranger, a mirror image of the off-the-track goings on here that have seen Athletics Kenya's top brass put self before country, their boardroom struggles appearing to be the main focus here rather than team strategy.

"I felt tired after the 10,000 metres that's why it was a little bit difficult to to go faster from the beginning," Mo told me, his second gold of these championships in a now familiar place round his neck. "I wanted to run as easy as possible today, I though the Kenyans would work as a team and would want to box me in, but it didn't happen, I was able to go in front and control the race."

That was a terrible indictment of the Kenyan quartet here, with Koech saying he was surprised that no-one pushed when he started off fast.

"We Kenyans planned with our team to run the race together. But at the end I ran my own race," he confessed.

"I was staying to push and when I saw no one coming, I slowed down."

The disconnect in this race is most certainly a result of rudderless team strategy that is hardly surprising as AK chairman Isaiah Kiplagat - resident here at the Radisson Royal, one of Moscow's finest hotels -seems preoccupied with creating a fortress around his presidency of the association while paying little attention to the dearth of the country's erstwhile flawless gold medal panning machinery.

That yesterday Kenya also lost the marathon gold medal to that man Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda again should sound the death knell for Kiplagat who's 20-year reign at the helm of Kenya's well-heeled track and field association.

Elias Makori, is the Managing Editor of Nation Media Group’s Sporton! bi-weekly. He is the IAAF Journalist of The Year.