European 5000m and 10,000m champion Mo Farah, who leads the world season list for 10,000m after his epic continental record run in Eugene (26:46.57) on 2 June, is approaching the 5000m on Sunday (10) at the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix – the ninth leg of the 2011 Samsung Diamond League with a new confidence and belief that owes everything to his American coach Alberto Salazar.
Salazar, 52, the marathon ace of the early 1980s (2:08:51 PB) with wins in Boston, Chicago and New York, the latter three-times, who was a versatile track runner with bests of 7:43.79 (3000), 13:11.93 (5000) and 27:25.61 (10,000), has led a renaissance in the fortunes of US middle and long distance running in recent years, and in their first few months together has transformed Farah from European success to true global challenger.
Farah’s total belief in this athlete/coaching relation has led him to move his family from the UK to Portland, Oregon, to be closer to his coaching guru, where he is teamed-up with Galen Rupp, 25, who was 8th at the 2009 World Championships 10,000m.
“I’m definitely a lot more confident in myself thanks to Alberto and it’s nice to have a training partner like Galen with whom you can relax,” confirmed Farah. “We train together and spend a lot of time together. I’m a lot happier and enjoying myself. I’ve already enjoyed myself before but never this much.”
“Yes Eugene (European 5000m record) has given me belief but fast times are one thing, winning medals are something different. I've been seventh and sixth in the world, I would like to improve from that and get as close to a medal as I can. I want to win a major medal rather than running a fast time, a medal is there forever. I want to get close to a medal this year and then it's not far to go to 2012 (London Olympics).”
“As an athlete you always look up to somebody. When I was younger it was Paula Radcliffe, Alberto is a great coach and a great athletes. He's been there and done it so... when he tells you to take it easy you take it easy. If another coach has not done it you might think about it twice,” confirmed Farah, 28.
“He's always had the talent”
Salazar has equal confidence in the abilities of his newest charge.
“I would say Farah’s greatest strength besides his talent is his ability to be relaxed. When he is given workouts to do he will go and execute it and not worry about it. There's a difference between having a belief and 99% and 100% believing what you're doing. I think the key is not to make any mistakes, that is where the coach comes in. I tell him ‘you have to take it easy today and back off’ and often with athletes when they have to make those decisions on their own they don't want to back off, they think its weakness. That's where Mo is great because in the space of eight months he's gotten to the point where if I tell him he's only doing 2/3rds of the workout Galen is doing he'll just do it.”
“His greatest strength is his confidence in his training programme, training partners and his coach. He's always had the talent and now with that he's able to do greater things than ever before.”
“I have never seen someone come into a programme so quickly and adapt to it. I could tell him don't warm up for a race tomorrow and he would do it. He just totally believes and that shows in his race performances.”
“In this day and age, to do it right you can't make mistakes. I think a coach has to be on top of his athletes all the time because no matter how smart they are, once their emotions are involved they are going to make mistakes. If you are with them hopefully you can stop them making those mistakes.”
“We all saw the time that he ran (in Eugene) and there's only one guy out there that has been clearly superior to everyone else and that's Bekele, and there are currently question marks about him (his fitness). Who knows what level he'll return to, but other than him at his best, Mo is as good as anyone else out there. On one day what colour medal he gets, there is as always luck involved, but I really believe he is as good as anyone out there.”
With repetition comes confidence
“There are key workouts that he and Galen are always doing and he can look at those workouts and compare them to what he was doing before and say ‘wow, this time it’s 4 seconds faster than two months ago’. With that repetition of key workouts comes the confidence. He can see how he did that before and he can do this now, and so he feels he must be able to run a lot faster. You have to have some duplication of workouts, otherwise how do you know if you are getting better? You need certain benchmarks and I think Mo has seen that from fast 200s to tempo runs, everything has consistently got faster.
“By the time he gets to Daegu, I want him to look back and say, ‘my speed, my strength, my tempo runs were all better in the last three weeks before Daegu than they were before I ran 26:46. That in his mind is going to tell him that he is in better shape than he was when he ran 26:46.”
With an audacious attempt at a World Championship 5000m and 10,000m double planned for Daegu, Sunday’s 5000m in Birmingham is especially important as Farah will face many of his top opponents including 2010 Diamond Race 5000m Trophy winner Imane Merga, who currently heads the world season’s lists with his 12:54.21 victory at the Rome Samsung Diamond League on 26 May.
As Farah would have to improve his own personal best (12:57.94; Zurich 19 Aug 2010) by over three seconds, what are the chances that in his first outdoor 5000m of the season he can not only challenge the Ethiopian for the win but also threaten that lead?
“It all depends how the race goes…If its fast we’ll see what will happen,” replied Farah in an understated and relaxed manner which owes everything to the calm, confident aura of Salazar, who sitting to the left of Farah today, made no gesture or comment which would either confirm or deny agreement.
Salazar didn't have to, as it was already clear he believes Farah can deliver anything now.
Chris Turner for the IAAF