Thursday, July 05, 2007
IN A storyline that bore more than a passing resemblance to 'The Return of the Prodigal Son', last Thursday, Mo Farah made a pilgrimage back to the place where it all began, WRITES LUCAS WILSON.
|Mo Farah lights the London Youth Games flame.
As a youngster the Newham & Essex Beagles star competed at the London Youth Games and by returning to light the torch at Crystal Palace in front of a crowd of budding athletes, Farah had turned full circle.
It has been a long and winding road for the 24-year-old whose immense promise was highly apparent right from the beginning.
However, following his incredible breakthrough into the upper echelons of world distance running, Farah was delighted to take time out of his busy schedule to serve as an inspiration to London's future stars.
"The memories have just come flooding back," he beamed. "I competed at the mini games in '96 and '97 and I remember being really young. It's great to see youngsters taking part in so many different sports and to have 25,000 kids involved is amazing.
"I never thought I'd be back here as the guest of honour and running through the kids and them wanting to high five me - it was a great feeling.
"We need to get involved more and push the kids into sports because I believe that not so many of them are doing so and with 2012 just around the corner, we need to push and push because they're the stars of tomorrow."
The European Cross Country champion is living proof that events such as this can give our young talent the impetus to carve out careers in the sporting world.
Having competed at the Games, Farah was soon spotted and under the auspices of renowned coach Alan Storey, his early potential has certainly flourished, making him the elite athlete he is today.
"I've been working with Alan for years and he's great," he smiled. "He's more than just a coach to me, he's a mentor too and I think that's what you need."
His link-up with Storey at the age of 16 gave a young Farah the opportunity to test himself at the highest level of youth athletics while running for the Beagles.
It also gave him the chance to represent Britain for the first time and it proved to be a successful debut as he took 5,000m gold at the 2001 European Junior Championships, despite being two years younger than his rivals.
What has also helped the Somalia-born star was his decision in 2005 to house himself with Kenyan stars of the likes of Micah Kogo, change his lifestyle and train with Australian distance legend Craig Mottram.
"It's helped a lot. I've made a lot of changes to my life over the last couple of years and it seems to be working," he revealed. "I think as an athlete you have to give 100 per cent and just focus on running and nothing else.
"I'm lucky to receive lottery support and other funding that has enabled me to compete at places that I wouldn't normally be able to. Mainly it's about just focussing totally on what you're doing."
Focus is something that the rejuvenated Farah has in abundance as his stunning performances in 2006 proved.
Last year he took 5,000m silver at the European Champion-ships, was second in the European Cup, won the European Cross Country title and became the second fastest Briton at 5,000m, behind David Moor-croft, after clocking 13.09.40 in Heusden, Belgium - and all this despite starting the year with a disappointing outing at the Commonwealth Games.
"I didn't know it (his breakthrough) was going to come that soon but I knew that it was going to come because I'd put a lot of hard work into it," he admitted.
"I spent three months in Australia (with Mottram) and although it didn't pay off straight away because I didn't run that well in the Commonwealths - I think I'd over-trained - but I came back home and my coach got it right again and I think that's what you've got to do.
"Sometimes you get it wrong and others you get it right. You've got to learn how your body works. At the moment it's all about staying injury-free."
Although injury has so far halted his progress this year, his stunning 10th place finish in the searing heat of the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, Kenya in March proved that he's got what it takes to prove himself at the highest level.
His main aim now is to return to full fitness and make the British squad for the World Championships in Osaka, Japan in August.
"That's the big one. I've already got the qualifying time but I still have to go to the trials and finish in the top three and just see what happens," admitted Farah.
"My aim is to go to the World Championships because I've never been to one before and I've got to go there and mix it with the top guys."
Whether or not the British number one can 'mix it' with the highest calibre of distance runners may well depend on how close he can come to breaking Moorcroft's British 5,000m record that has stood since 1982 and Farah has his sights firmly set upon it.
"Moorcroft was a great athlete and he ran 13 minutes (for the 5,000m) and I think that's what I've got to do," he revealed.
"I've got to step it up and really want to run 13 minutes like he did. I'm not saying I want to do that immediately but eventually that's what I'd like to do.
"I want to test myself and see how fast I can run and I'd love to get close to that British record. I've come closer than anyone else - I'm nine seconds off it - but if I'm going to come close to getting a medal at the Worlds, then that will be the type of time I'd have to run.
"It is definitely possible - I've got to believe in that or otherwise there's not point doing it but the other guys are a different class and I've got to step up another gear."
Farah is also well aware that his achievements of last year will count for nothing once he toes the line in Osaka and neither will the bond of friendship he has built up with Kogo, Mottram et al.
"Ok I ran 13.09 last year but that was last year," he confirmed.
"But this year I've got to forget about that and step up another level.
"When the gun goes, you've got to forget about mates and everything like that and just concentrate on your own race but I'm lucky to have a lot of people like that in my life.
"I've learned a lot from my coach, Craig Mottram and the Kenyans - there's a lot of people who've helped me out."
That much is certainly true but if Farah hadn't possessed the raw talent that Storey spotted long ago then his career would not stand on the precipice of greatness right now.
All that is left is for the next chapter of the story of this 'Prodigal Son' to be written and one can only hope that it has a happy ending.
And if his appearance at the Youth Games last week can inspire the next generation of youngsters, then it will be a job well done.
Source: Newham Recorder24, July 05, 2007