On the eve of the Rio Olympics the BBC had an exclusive look at the life of one of the heroes of the London 2012 games. Mo Farah’s broad grin and winning enthusiasm was a highlight of one of the best cultural experiences this country has ever had. Can he retain those two incredible gold medals and help us regain that confidence in our national abilities that, four years on, is sorely missing?
Our British hero was in fact born in Somalia. We see him greeted as a celebrity in Djibouti where he lived for a short time as a child. He has extended family there and his twin bother Hassan lives there too. He’s a regular visitor to Africa, training every winter at altitude which he says is key to his success. When he was a small child his family decided to move to live with their father who worked in London. Sadly Hassan was left behind as he was too ill to travel to the UK. This was only meant to be for a few weeks but then war broke out and his family couldn’t find him. The two men talk about it on camera for the first time. It’s painful to dredge up; they were best friends as children and were apart for twelve years but it’s hazy on detail. It would have been more interesting to have the complete story…
While in Djibouti, Mo wonders what he would have done had he stayed there, what he would have become. At aged 8 he came to live in South London. His grasp of English was extremely poor and he got into fights – they key phrase he had learned was “Come on then!” which didn’t win him many friends, but probably quite a lot of bruises. He made friends through sport, representing his school and country in cross-country. His excitement about 2012 was double because the Olympics was essentially coming to his home turf.
Usain Bolt and Haile Gebrselassie pop up in interview segments, with Bolt being especially charming. I guess Mo is not a rival – they’re not really in the same sport despite them both being runners. Bolt thinks distance runners are crazy – their warm up equates to his entire competitive distance around the track.
Mo explains his dual passions well – his family and his running. In this he is eloquent. He wants to win four golds; one for each child and when he says it, it seems reasonable, but then he says his daughter asks why he has to run. Why can’t he just come home when they miss him? We see a few nice intimate shots of family life in a lovely large American house. Despite having moved to Portland, Oregon for the world-class training facilities Mo is still away for 6 months of the year. His wife Tania recalls looking after the baby in the crib next to her bed one night and freaking out when something moved beside her. She’d totally forgotten her husband was home. They talk about periods of adjustment, like families who have members in the military or in space.
Mo works with coach Alberto Salazar who runs the Portland centre of excellence. We don’t get much detail on the science – red blood cells and caffeine are mentioned. The team are at pains to assure us they use “nothing banned”, so can we take from that that certain substances and techniques are used, but nothing that contravenes current regulations. This part of Mo’s life is under the microscope as accusations about Salazar and doping came to the fore in June 2015 thanks to a BBC Panorama investigation. Mo was, and still is, worried about his reputation. He wants to assure everyone he is a clean athlete. He tells the press conference at the time “you’re killing me!”. His team took the decision to make his blood tests public and he was cleared to continue to work with Salazar. The results of Salazar’s investigation are still outstanding so things around the Oregon Project are a bit murky. But despite all this Mo can still count on massive crowd support wherever he goes.
His training regime is complicated and exhausting. He runs on average 120 miles per week! His time at the top of the sport is brief and he is worried about his age at only 33. The sports massage he receives before a race looks like actual Spanish Inquisition-style torture. All that’s missing is the rack. Where’s the lavender essential oils?!
The weight of expectations is clearly felt by the whole team. Can he win in Rio? I loved the wildly enthusiastic support from his eldest daughter (the swimmer in the family). Tania looks easily as stressed out as Mo, maybe more so. She believes in him and supports his dream but she is very down to earth, her accent very ‘Sarf Laandan’, despite having lived in America for years now.
Shout out to Barry Fudge (great name) Head of UK Endurance Athletics. He pops up for a couple of interviews too, but each time his name comes up in caption. Is he really that forgettable? Strange as we the viewer apparently didn’t need reminders about who Usain Bolt was! Poor Barry.
Race of his Life was a good but brief look at Mo’s incredible life, but was lacking in any real nitty-gritty or anything the tabloids might use as dirty laundry. Is this because he’s a totally chilled-out guy or were we just not privy to arguments with his trainers or his wife? He seems most frustrated about the doping allegations but probably didn’t want to dwell on the negatives in this Olympic year. It takes self-belief to be the greatest, but also national belief and support to go anywhere near regaining the high emotions and gripping drama of 2012. With so many sports being in trouble for doping, can we belive in our athletes as national heroes? Or can we disregard any wrong-doing and just enjoy the spectacle? In four days time we’ll find out.
If you have time in between sports, catch up with Mo Farah: Race of his Life. It’s on iPlayer for three weeks.