Out of Africa and into gold medal contention

MO Farah was born in Africa, but it is the dream of beating the African athletes who dominate long and middle distance athletics which inspires him.

Mo Farah is one of British athletics’ most exciting young talents, but he might not have been able to continue in the sport if it was not for Paula Radcliffe.

MO Farah was born in Africa, but it is the dream of beating the African athletes who dominate long and middle distance athletics which inspires him.

When Farah arrived in Britain from a war-torn Somalia 15 years ago he did not speak a word of English, but is now regarded as one of his adopted country’s best hopes of a medal at the Olympic Games in Beijing next year.

In an age when those with a right-wing political agenda are all too willing to poison public opinion against asylum seekers, Farah is the antidote, a new arrival who has come to regard this country as his home and one he is desperate to represent on the international stage.

At just 24, Farah should still be running in 2012 when the Olympics come to London, where he will hope to win gold. But there are more immediate challenges ahead.

Farah will run in the Great North Run 3km road race tomorrow 12 months after he pulled off a shock over Australian Craig Mottram in the mile race and the Newham and Essex Beagles athlete is hoping to end the season on a similar high this weekend.

Then comes a well-earned break – one week off training and another week training every other day – before flying to South Africa to prepare for the start of a new season, which will begin with a defence of his European Cross Country title, perhaps lead to the breaking of David Moorcroft’s 25-year-old national 5,000m record and eventually take him to the Olympics in China.

“I’m really looking forward to the Great North Run,” said Farah, “It’s been a long hard season for me. I’ve lowered my personal best to 13:07 for the 5,000m and I won the European Cross Country Championships, so I’ve made progress.

“Having made my name last year when I ran 13:09, it was important I backed that up and showed continued improvement. I also finished second in the European Championships on the track and finished sixth in a final at the World Championships.

“Every year I’ve come back and I’ve progressed. That’s the important thing, to keep moving up a level and eventually I want to be able to beat the Africans.”

But it is the prospect of beating Moorcroft’s time of 13 minutes dead, a world record when it was set in Oslo in 1982, that will also keep Farah going during a gruelling winter.

He said: “I’ve not been under 13 minutes, that’s the next aim and hopefully it will come. The British record is held by Dave Moorcroft and he ran 13 minutes dead.

“At the same time, when he did that it was a world record. Times are getting a lot faster, but I want to run under 13 minutes. I don’t know when it’s going to come, all I can do is keep working and keep training, but the good thing is I’m getting closer.”

Having made steady progress this season, Farah could be winding down already, but he was determined to compete in his fourth Great North Run weekend.

He added: “I’ll take a little break after the Great North Run. I’ll go out to South Africa at the end of October and start to prepare for next season.

“It’s not much of a break ,to be honest. I’ll have a week when I just relax, spend time with family and catch up with people. There isn’t going to be a holiday, it’s just a quiet week. It’s been a hard season, but knowing I’ve got that break at the end of the race will mean I give it all I can. This is the fourth time I’ve been up here for the Great North Run and it is definitely a highlight for British athletes.

“I won last year (over one mile) and it’s always nice finishing a race when you’re at home, I remember that last year and the crowd were fantastic. I can remember watching it on television when I was younger, I remember watching the likes of Paula Radcliffe and Sonia O’Sullivan racing and I wanted to take part.”

Little did a young Farah know that Radcliffe would one day have a major impact on his career when she sponsored him through her foundation, set up to help promising young athletes to benefit from overseas training and other forms of support.

“I first met Paula when I was 15,” said Farah, who is delighted to see Radcliffe returning to athletics in the Great North Run this weekend after a break following the birth of her first child.

“Over the years she has supported me a lot, especially when I was young. Just her coming up to me and talking to me was a big thing, but without her I wouldn’t be here now. She gave me the money to go away and train and things like that.”

Meanwhile, world 10,000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba has pulled out of the women’s 3km Great North road race because of a stomach injury.

The Ethiopian, who won the gold medal in Osaka, as well as gold in the 10,000m and 5,000m in Helsinki in 2005, had hoped to break the world record at this year’s event.

She will be replaced by former world junior cross country champion Meselech Melkamu.

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