Back on track, it’s time for Farah to stand up and fight
Six weeks on from his last race, having endured the fight of his life to save his reputation and fend off an inquisitive, sceptical media which probed every orifice it could find, the time has come for the world’s best distance runner to get back on track.
On Thursday night in Lausanne, Mo Farah will lace up his spikes in public for the first time since late May and race over 3,000m. The field he faces is one of intimidating quality.
A little after 9pm Swiss time (3pm EST), the double Olympic champion will toe the line against middle-distance heavyweights Hagos Gebrhiwet, Yomif Kejelcha, Caleb Ndiku, Thomas Longosiwa and more. Say what you like about Farah, but this is one challenge from which he is not running.
To Farah, though, this is the easy part.
After all he is, first and foremost, a runner – a racer of the most brilliant quality and a double Olympic champion. Returning to the craft at which he has carved his name alongside the greats will undoubtedly bring great relief.
Six weeks may feel like a short time to some but for Farah, his last race at the Prefontaine Classic on May 29 must feel like a lifetime ago. It was less than a week after that race that BBC and ProPublica released their joint report alleging that his coach Alberto Salazar and training partner Galen Rupp were involved in doping.
Despite Farah being made aware of its accusations well before its release, the report must still have landed with the force of an earthquake, destroying the landscape as he knew it. Not alone was he forced to deal with the initial impact, but also absorb multiple aftershocks of accusation, innuendo and investigation from a probing press pack.
Few nations’ media fawn over their sporting heroes at their peak the way the British do, but no other nation also rivals the speed at which they’ll knock you off the same pedestal if your behaviour – whether sporting or otherwise – is less than that expected.
When Farah showed up to the Birmingham Diamond League last month, the British press were there waiting, baying for blood, ready for a slip-up, an ill-considered answer or to see if, when backed into a corner, Farah might emerge with an outright lie.
For 30 minutes, he was probed, grilled and thoroughly examined, but he had prepared for the questions the same way he prepared for Olympic finals – meticulously. Whatever was to be thrown at him, he would be ready.
Outwardly, the toll on Farah didn’t appear overly taxing, but stress is a silent killer. Farah changed his flights that night, refusing to heed the advice of those imploring him to stay and race. He flew back to America the next morning, so early that all the fans who had paid a sizeable fee to watch him race were still sleeping, blissfully unaware that the star of the show was about to be in absentia.
Fight or flight – the two instinctive responses when man is faced with conflict. In Birmingham, when the heat came on, Farah showed his fragility like never before and took flight.
“I tried to race,” he told Sky News in recent weeks. “My head wasn’t there. There was just so much, so I changed my flight and I went home. And I went to see [Alberto] and to confront him and say, ‘what’s going on? You need to reassure me’, and he said to me, ‘Mo, I’m working on this. I will come out and prove these are just allegations.’ And I was like, okay.
“For people to think I’m taking shortcuts, it’s not right and it’s not fair. This picture has been painted of me. It’s not right. I’m 100pc clean.”
They listened, alright, but the British press were unrelenting. Many of their finest sports writers followed the trail of suspicion all the way to America, speaking to former Oregon Project members and employees, publishing suspicion-arousing anecdotes about Salazar, while also uncovering details of Farah’s two missed drug tests in recent years.
The one thing the BBC/ProPublica report could not do was link Farah to any illicit practices but guilt by association, at least when it comes to the trial by public perception, is a powerful weapon.
Farah soon fought back and launched an impassioned defence of his reputation, while at the same time issuing a challenge to his sceptics. “If I’m a cheat, prove to me I’m a cheat,” he said, “or else just leave me alone.” You could sense his patience wearing thin, the burden of suspicion maintaining its suffocating grip.
After five weeks in which Farah has been plastered across front and back pages in his home country, his name always used as a hook for a story which is, was, and probably will continue to be about his coach and training partner, maybe he did have a point.
Maybe it is time to leave him alone, at least for now, until someone can uncover something of substance against him.
The questions won’t stop, and nor will the accusations. They’ll follow Farah all the way to the World Championships in Beijing and beyond. By choosing to stick by Salazar, he has nailed his colours to the mast amid a storm of suspicion. Farah’s reputation will eventually sink or swim with that choice.
On Thursday night in Lausanne, he gets the chance to make amends for Birmingham. This time, he will stand up and fight, not turn and run. For his latest battle, he has chosen one of the sport’s toughest challenges, and that is to be commended.
For the last six weeks, Farah’s battles have all been waged in a place he has often been made to look extremely vulnerable: the media.
Now, it’s time for him to fight the good fight back in his domain: the track.