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Thu Apr 24 18:42:23 SAST 2014

Out of Africa - Mo is Britain's golden boy

Pirate Irwin, Sapa-AFP | 12 August, 2012 11:000 Comments
Britain's Mo Farah kisses his gold medal after winning the men's 5000m at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium August 11, 2012
Image by: Eddie Keogh / REUTERS

When Britain’s Mo Farah became only the seventh man to achieve the 5,000-10,000m Olympic double on Saturday, it completed a remarkable journey which began in war-torn Somalia.

With victory in the 5,000m Farah, who came to England aged eight after spending his early years in Djibouti, can be counted among the athletics greats.

But now the engaging 28-year-old runner, who ended African dominance in both distance races, will have to make up for the time he has had to spend away from his wife Tania, who is due to give birth to twin girls.

No guessing then what they will have dangling above their cots — and it was with some relief that the medals will be both of the same colour.

“Those medals are for my girls, they are not born yet,” said Farah, a Muslim, who was so focused on winning he opted not to observe Ramadan.

“It could be any day. The doctors say we have 12 days, but I did not want to leave one out, because they are twins.” 

Farah, though, would probably not have made it to the top of the podium twice had it not been for the unconditional support of his wife, who in a rare foray into the spotlight went onto the track with daughter Rihanna last Saturday and hugged him.

“She is carrying twins, it has not been easy because I didn’t want to know,” said Farah, who became the first British male athlete to win a world distance title when he landed the 5,000m in Daegu last year.

“She said she wouldn’t let me know if anything happened.” 

It is questionable whether Farah would have got this far but for two major influences on his life once he was in England — his school sports teacher Alan Watkinson, and British great Paula Radcliffe.

Understandably speaking little English on his arrival in England  — his family came because his English-born father lived and worked in the country — Farah had a hard introduction on his first day at school.

He made the mistake of using one of the few phrases he knew, “C’mon then”, to the toughest guy in his class.

“He twatted me,” he told The Independent newspaper, using the slang phrase for being punched.

At his second school he came across Watkinson, who recognised he had an athlete of great potential on his hands, even if Farah wanted to play football for London giants Arsenal.

“I remember seeing him in a cross-country race for the first time,” said Watkinson.

“He didn’t win because he didn’t know the way. He kept turning round to see that the others had gone off in a different direction. But his running was so effortless.”

Radcliffe, who had her fair share of Olympic disappointment in successive marathons in Athens and Beijing, also placed her faith in him and made it possible for Farah to get to training.

“She paid for me to take driving lessons,” said Farah.

“I couldn’t drive but I had to get out to Windsor to train, which was a difficult journey without a car. I look up to her a lot. She’s made me believe that anything is possible.”

Those days of driving to Windsor are long gone as he took the decision to move to Portland, Oregon, and train there in 2011 so he could spend more time with his coach, marathon legend Alberto Salazar.

Farah may have won gold for Britain, having trained in the USA and Kenya, but he has not forgotten his birthplace.

He retains happy memories of Somalia where he was born in a comfortable house, surrounded by family, some of whom remain there.

Proud of his roots, Farah and Tania set up the Mo Farah Foundation which aims to build 50 wells and to give a month’s supply of food to at least 20,000 people, and medical support to 40,000, by the end of the year.

He has also set aside the 250,000 pounds ($389,000) he won in a TV show earlier this year for the project — and there is more to come.

“On the first of September I’m having a big charity auction for the Mo Farah Foundation,” he said on Saturday.

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