Dave Moorcroft, who lost two national records to Mo Farah, will remember the British distance legend for the way he transformed himself as an athlete as much as his success on the track.
“One of his greatest transformations, I think, was tactically,” Moorcroft, a former world-record holder who appeared in three Olympics for Great Britain in the late 1970s and early ’80s, says of Farah. “I don’t think Mo was the greatest reader of a race when he was younger.”
Now, at age 34, Farah will compete in the Diamond League final for the first time since 2010 in his final track race Thursday at the Weltklasse Zurich meet (CBCSports.ca, 2 p.m. ET). Farah will run the men’s 5,000 metres at 3:14 p.m ET.
The second of the two final Diamond League meets is Sept. 1 in Brussels.
Under this season’s new format, points accumulated for qualifying purposes are thrown out and the winner of each of Thursday’s 16 events earns the title of Diamond League champion and $50,000 US in prize money.
‘I don’t think I’ve seen a long-distance runner control races and assert himself in a race the way Mo has.’
— Former Olympian Dave Moorcroft on fellow Brit Mo Farah
Moorcroft first laid eyes on Farah in the mid-1990s at a school/junior club cross-country event in England, when watching the teenaged runner “was poetry in motion, but translating that to the world level was a huge challenge.”
In the 10,000-metre final at the 2011 world championships, Farah kept pace with the leaders and looked comfortable with 600 metres remaining in a thrilling 25-lap race.
But going too fast and too early on the last lap, Moorcroft recalled earlier this week over the phone from the United Kingdom, proved costly for the 28-year-old Farah. He watched as Ethiopia’s Ibrahim Jeilan overtook him just metres from the finish line in Daegu, South Korea, culminating in a second-place finish.
“Since then, he has literally outthought and outrun the opposition with his run of 10 global titles, plus the [five] European ones,” said Moorcroft, who lost his British record in the 3,000 to Farah at Diamond League Birmingham, England in June 2016. “I don’t think I’ve seen a long-distance runner control races and assert himself in a race the way Mo has over those years.”
‘I think it’s that sort of iconic event’
Farah has fared well at Letzigrund Stadium, where he broke the 13-minute barrier for the first time in 2010, clocking 12:57.94 in the 5,000 to shatter Moorcroft’s national mark of 13:00.41. It’s also where he was crowned double European champion in 2014.
Moorcroft, who has covered athletics for BBC television and radio for more than 15 years, compared Thursday’s race to the final games of Wayne Gretzky, the NHL’s all-time leading scorer, and basketball great Michael Jordan.
“I think it’s that sort of iconic event,” he said, “the final act of a performer that has been outstanding.”
Farah is fresh off a victory in the 3,000 at last Sunday’s Diamond League event in Birmingham that followed his gold and silver performances in the 10,000 and 5,000, respectively, earlier this month at the track and field world championships in London.
Farah has won more world-level track gold medals than any other British athlete as a four-time Olympic champion and six-time world champion. He is also the only athlete in history to win both the men’s 5,000 and 10,000 at the Olympics and world championships two straight times.
Farah will be seeking a record-breaking fourth consecutive title in the Great North Run half marathon (21 kilometres) on Sept. 10 in England before switching to road racing full-time in 2018.
In his marathon debut in 2014, Farah posted a time of two hours eight minutes 21 seconds to place eighth in London. Canada’s Reid Coolsaet finished 13th in a season-best 2:13.40 on that April day after training with Farah in Kenya leading up to the race.
“The day before his first long-run … I gave him a crash course in marathon fuelling,” recalled Coolsaet, who also raced against Farah at the 2016 World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff, U.K. “He had a lot of questions about what to drink, how much and how often.
“On that long run, his stomach got a little upset after one of his first bottles and other runners picked up the pace and dropped Mo. Over the course of the run, Mo caught them all and dropped them by the end.”
Farah has said there is a slim chance he would run the marathon at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“I think he wants to see what happens,” Moorcroft says. “My guess is he’ll try to go for fast times, but probably not a world record. I think it’s a little bit of pleasure for him … rather than launching a new career.”
Andre De Grasse of Markham, Ont., qualified first for Zurich in the 100 but is sidelined by a hamstring injury he suffered five days before the world championships.
World champ Gatlin headlines 100m
Still, the 100 promises to be a tightly contested race with 2017 world champion Justin Gatlin of the United States and Ivorian Ben Youssef Meite as the veterans battling South Africa’s Akani Simbine and fellow youngster Chijindu Ujah of Great Britain. Simbine has eight legal sub-10-second performances and sits third on the world list with 9.92, while the consistent Ujah boasts a season best of 9.98.
And don’t forget Jamaica’s Asafa Powell, the Olympic and double world relay gold medallist, who has yet to run under 10 seconds this season but is a technically sound runner, according to CBC Sports analyst Donovan Bailey.
“The good thing about Asafa is that he’s never had a major injury. He also fares better when there’s not a lot of pressure on him, so he’ll be in contention,” says Bailey of Powell, who arrives in Switzerland with a season best time of 10.08 seconds.
“I want to believe that Gatlin’s going to win. Good money would say Gatlin, Simbine and Ujah on the podium, with the edge to Gatlin because he’s the world champion, has experience and has been consistent [this season]. But technically, all those guys are running the same time.”