When Mo Farah announced his retirement from Olympic competition last year, Team GB not only lost the most successful long distance runner in history, but also one of its most popular and charismatic competitors.
With a medal haul that includes four Olympic golds, six World Championships and five European Championships, there’s little doubt that Farah has enshrined himself as one of the greatest sportsmen to ever grace the track.
And when it comes to discussing what motivates the 2017 BBC Sports Personality of the Year winner, it becomes quickly apparent that Farah was always destined for success at the highest level. But it’s those Olympic golds and Championship victories that continue to mean the most to Farah, despite his career being littered with instances of toppling records – with his 2013 European 1,500m time of 3:28:81 overtaking athletic legends like Fermin Cacho and Steve Cram.
“Times don’t matter too much to me – it’s about winning, whether that be the 10,000m or the marathon,” the 34-yearold explains. “Times add a bit of gloss and show, but even the slower races can be hard because you’ve invested so much in keeping the opposition away.
“For me, it’s the thrill of the whole set-up. It’s not just crossing the line - I love the feeling of being hunted down by rivals, and I guess with that in mind it’s nice to be the one who’s being shot at, because that makes the feeling of success even greater.”
The shelf life of a professional athlete, however, is notoriously quick. For Farah, retirement rumours appeared perennial for the last year-and-a-half of his track career, in spite of his continued successes. It even appears that the constant speculation regarding his future pushed the Somali-born superstar to bigger and better things at shortand medium-distance.
“Fear is what kept me going; it’s what kept me competitive!” he admits. “People turned around to me and said, ‘you’re this age and that age - this must be coming to an end soon’, and I kept thinking ‘why should it?’ I guess I didn’t want the journey to end. I worked so hard to put myself in that place and the only way to stay there was to keep motivated.
“Poor motivation comes from a lack of interest. That’s why I embraced long distance running because it was a completely different skillset; it was like I was starting out all over again. I think it’s inevitable to find the human mind moving itself on to other challenges in life,” he continues, “but they say you are a long time retired when something has been your entire life.”
These days, there must be a fair few competitors who are happy to note Farah’s conspicuous absence at the starting blocks – or the lack of his signature ‘Mobot’ celebration to greet them at the finish line.
“I’ve been doing this a few years now and the names have come and gone,” he smiles. “But no two races are the same and, of course, every meeting brings a slightly different challenge. I don’t like to talk about rivals as really my only focus is ever on myself – that’s the way I like it.”
Having enjoyed so much success in two of athletics’ most gruelling events, Farah’s insistence on focusing on his own race above all others appears a winning formula. After all, his stadium victories aside, Farah also holds the title of being the first competitor to win the Great North Run for four consecutive years.
This individual focus is hinted at too in his unmistakeable form mid-race. Emphasised most in his tendency for tactical running and a sprint finish that blitzes any nearby competitors on the final stretch, this technique has ensured both Farah’s multitude of accomplishments, and his status as a highly entertaining athlete to watch.
“At 5,000m and 10,000m it’s the first part of a run that can be the most exciting. Everyone is jostling trying to work each other out. It’s easy to get clipped and only over the years have I managed to relax a bit more in the early laps, because it is a tense place to be in the pack and a lot of runners are on edge. I find the quicker I can settle into a rhythm and work out who’s around me and what their gameplans are the better I run. And really that’s the same method to take into longer-distance running.
“Then there’s the final kick, when my body just takes over. At that moment, it feels like I have more energy than at any other time in the race. What do I put that down to? I guess the right training, and knowing that my body has something left in reserve – and a small amount of faith!”