About 24 hours before the gun sounded the start of men’s race for the European Cross Country title, Britain’s Mo Farah was asked to summarize his 2006 season.
Said the personable 23-year-old: “It’s been a good year.”
On Sunday afternoon, it got even better. With a command performance at the 13th SPAR European Cross Country Championships in San Giorgio su Legnano, the young Briton stormed to an impressive victory, one which may ultimately be remembered for different reasons to different observers. To fans of European distance running, his win brought an end to the near-decade long cross country reign of Ukraine’s Sergey Lebid, hardly an insignificant achievement.
For fans in the British Isles, his win signalled the coming of age for a true continental distance star in the men’s ranks, the rise Britons had been waiting on for a very long time. His victory was the first for a male at a continental cross country championship since Jon Brown’s triumph a decade ago, and came just four months after his silver medal-winning run over 5000m at August’s European Championships in Gothenburg, where he was edged by Spaniard Jesus Espana by just .09 of a second. In this north central Italian city near Milan on Sunday, Farah had no company whatsoever as he cruised to his seven-second victory.
“It wasn’t that easy,” he said of his runaway win that produced a wide enough victory margin that he could afford to wave to the crowd as he approached the finish line. “I was working. But I felt good.”
Holding his nerve
On Sunday he bided his time over the first two-thirds of the race, a patience he said that doesn’t mesh well with his more aggressive style.
“It was very difficult to wait,” he said, “I like to push. I was talking to my coach and he told me to wait as long as possible.” While playing the waiting game, Farah said he noticed that Lebid didn’t seem to playing his usual game.
“On the second or third lap I was watching him, thinking, ‘When is he going to make his move?’ Going into the last lap, I saw (Portugal’s Fernando Silva) going into the lead and (Lebid) was about ten metres back and I said, ‘whoa.’ And I made my mind up. I said, ‘If I’m going to do anything I’ve got to go with these guys.’ And then that’s when I went. Then coming around the last lap I felt alright so that was when I made my move.”
“I was definitely working hard,” he reiterated. “It may have looked easy but I was definitely working hard.”
Farah’s hard work over the past several years has finally paid off.
A boost of confidence
Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, Farah joined his father in England as a 10-year-old after spending some time in a refugee camp in Djibouti, and immediately attracted local attention with his competitive ferocity, success he later delivered at the regional and national level. Second in the 2001 continental junior race in Thun, Switzerland, Farah said he’s matured both in his training and racing since then, and particularly over the past season.
That “good year” he referred to included personal bests in the 1500 (3:38.22), 3000 (7:38.15) and 5000 (13:09.40), the latter in July’s Heusden meeting elevating him to position No. 2 all-time among Britons and positioning him as a favourite for August’s European title.
“Getting that silver medal in the European Championships has given me a boost and a lot more confidence. I’m a different athlete from who I was last year and the year before. Having that confidence is a big thing in my life, in athletics.”
“I’ve learned a lot more,” he continued. “And I’ve trained a lot more sensibly than previous years. I was young and didn’t know much. But I’ve also trained a little bit harder, because I’ve got my body to be able to train harder.”
After a high altitude training stint in South Africa, late last month Farah tested his fitness at the Cross del L’Acier in Leffrinckroucke, France, where he out-kicked his housemate and training partner Micah Kogo of Kenya, this year’s fastest man over 10,000m.
“That race said that I’m in really good shape. And I won in a tight finish. So that race obviously gave me a bit more confidence.”
The next level – 100% focus the key
Now riding high on the continental scene, the next step is an obvious one to Farah: to begin making waves internationally. He said he’ll probably race sparingly through the winter months, and while the European Indoor Championships in Birmingham and the World Cross Country Championships in March are among his list of priorities, topping that list will be next summer’s World Championships in Osaka where he hopes to emerge on that next level by being competitive with the best the world has to offer.
“People say that Europeans don’t train as hard (as Africans), but I’ve kind of shown them that I have trained hard. It depends how much you want it. Having lived with Africans and trained with them, I’ve learned a lot. And when they say, ‘train hard, win easy,’ that makes sense. If you think you’re going to compete with them, if you give it 100 percent and focus, you can be as good as them.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF