Mo Farah was expected to deliver “something special” with which to begin the IAAF World Championships in London and he well and truly produced it to win his 10th consecutive global title in astonishing style.
On a night that crackled as the UK capital and British public echoed the 2012 Olympics by responding in remarkable fashion to the pulsating action which unfolded in the famous stadium, the 34-year-old was pushed to his limits, and almost fell on more than one occasion, to take victory in the 10,000m.
Exactly five years to the day from Super Saturday, an evening which he admits changed his life, the quadruple Olympic champion ran 26:49.51 – two seconds outside of his personal best and the fastest he’s ever run a global final. Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei was hugely impressive as he finished second in 26:49.94, with Kenyan Olympic silver medallist Paul Tanui third in 26:50.60.
Ever since taking world 5000m gold in Daegu six years ago, Farah has perfected the art of winning and he has never lost in the former Olympic Stadium. He has rarely had to dig deeper, however, to maintain that 100 per cent record at his favourite venue.
The field started quickly, with a 61-second opening lap, and from there the race took its course breathlessly, ebbing and flowing over 25 compelling laps.
With Farah content to sit back in the opening stages – he was 17th through 2000m – a combination of Cheptegei, and the Kenyan duo of Geoffrey Kamworor and Tanui exchanged the lead.
Farah did make efforts to move up after 3000m but the surges and changes of pace from his opponents were relentless.
Whether it was to stir himself, or simply harness the power of the partisan crowd, soon after Farah stared into the 60,000-strong gathering and urged them to roar him on.
“I just wanted to play with the guy’s head,” he explained.
Off the track, he got the reaction he was looking for but on it he was not having things his own way. A Kenyan 1-2-3 of Kamworor, Tanui and Bedan Muchiri led the way as they passed halfway in 13:33.74 with Farah sitting back in 10th.
The Kenyan tactics seemed to be working and, with Cheptegei heading the field, it was clear the effort was going to have to be monumental.
Farah moved into the top four with seven laps to go but, again, any move was met with a counter surge. Even when he took the lead with four laps remaining, it was the turn of Abadi Hadis to step in and the Ethiopian attempted to kick away.
He was chased down and Farah, as is typical when a gold medal is at stake, made what would be a decisive late move.
He hit the front with 800m to go and again Hadis followed but Farah – who would cover the remaining two laps in 1:56.05 – was starting to shift through the gears.
The crowd was doing its best to elevate the noise levels, too, and the final lap began with the fans’ favourite at the front.
It’s at this point when Farah makes all the miles, and all the training sessions, count but he came close – twice – to seeing his dream die with the finish line tantalising close.
A clip from Kamworor entering the back straight saw balance momentarily lost and arms flailing before, moments later, Farah’s foot glanced the piping around the inside of the track and he stumbled again. Unlike in the 10,000m final in Rio, however, he kept his footing and he set his sights on the kick for home.
His best was good enough once again and, as Farah crossed the line, arms outstretched, he joined in the roar with an audience which was reaching incredible sonic levels and barely able to take in the raw, coursing competition they had just witnessed.
Cheptegei, the 20-year-old former world junior champion who was sixth in Rio and had made the running for so much of the contest, saw his performance rewarded with silver.
And so it was that an evening which started with a British medal ceremony – the 2009 women’s 4x400m relay side were finally awarded the world bronze they had been robbed of by drug cheats in Berlin – ended with a home athlete at the top of the podium.
On the eve of this race, British Athletics performance director Neil Black had insisted Great Britain’s superstar athlete was in shape to defend his 10,000m title.
“Every year certain things happen where it gets to a point where suddenly Mo knows that he’s ready,” Black said. “He did something in training, without killing himself, that confirmed to him and the rest of us that he was ready. He then took his shoes off and said: ‘That’s it, job done’. You’ll see something special.”
He was right.
“It was amazing tonight, I had to get my head around it,” admitted Farah, who will now concentrate his efforts on being fit to defend his 5000m title next week after sustaining “cuts and bruises” to his leg in the heat of race battle.
“I got a bit emotional at the start and then I just had to get in the zone. It has all been amazing.
“It wasn’t an easy race, though. It has been a long journey where I have worked very hard on long distance but also speed.
“But what a way to end my career in London. This was very special.
“I knew at 12 laps to go when they went hard from there I knew it was going to be tough. It was about believing in my sprint finish and knowing that I have been in that position before. It helped a lot having that experience.
“Anything is possible if you train hard.”
Mo’s perfect 10
2011 – IAAF World Championships 5000m [Daegu]
2012 – Olympics 10,000m and 5000m [London]
2013 – IAAF World Championships 10,000m and 5000m [Moscow]
2015 – IAAF World Championships 10,000m and 5000m [Beijing]
2016 – Olympics 10,000m and 5000m [Rio]
2017 – IAAF World Championships 10,000m [London]
Source: Euan Crumley| AW