British athletics Diary: Mo Farah's last track race, Paul Halford provides some thoughts on Mo's rise to the top


Paul Halford was in Zurich for Mo Farah's last track race and, also having interviewed him at the star of his career, looks back on his rise to the top.

Edris-Chelimo-FarahFH1a-Zurich17.jpgThe final steps in Zurich, August 24, 2017, photo by

As Mo Farah lined up for a track race for one final time at the Zurich Weltklasse last Thursday, I couldn't help reflecting on how much had changed for him in the seven years since he last took part in the meeting.

That day in 2010 he lined up struggling to break into the very best in the world. He would break a 28-year-old British record (12:57.94) in the Swiss city - truly world class yet good enough for only fifth place two and half seconds behind the winner. Straight after the race he had a hotel meeting to discuss arrangements with a potential new coach - Alberto Salazar, who would be key in a metamorphisis of his fortunes.

It was to be the last time he would find himself outclassed on the track. Seven years on and back in Zurich he stepped off a track for the final time as the most successful British athlete in history.

The transformation so late in his career has raised eyebrows. However, Farah had offered a glimmer of his potential that night in Zurich seven years ago - before his association with his controversial coach Salazar, who is being investigated by the US Anti-Doping Agency, began.

Ten global titles later, he was given a rapturous welcome in the 5000m for his final track race - not be confused with his final championship track race in London last month, nor his final appearance on a British track in Birmingham a week later. It is far from the end for the 34-year-old too, as he now embarks on a career at the marathon, but few would deny him so many moments of glory.

After so much success, you could have forgiven Farah for not being eyeballs-out to end his track career on a winning note, but you could see the Brit was as determined as ever as he won an incredible dip finish.

Having been privileged to witness live his final track race, I recall the first time I interviewed Farah - on a muddy field at a cross-country race in Margate in November 1999.

The painfully shy 16-year-old had just finished 10 seconds behind regular teenage rival Chris Thompson. He had recently finished sixth in the 3000m at the World Youth Championships - 11 seconds behind runner-up Kenenisa Bekele. Four years later I was at the European Under-23 Championships in Bydgoszcz, where he was again beaten by Thompson - ironically on a sprint finish, which is now his speciality. He was then one of the most promising athletes in his country but no world-beater.

When you look at how he then remained merely the top British distance runner until the age of 27, I can empathise with those suspicious of his trajectory. Yet, I'm a little less cynical and I believe his route to the top shows more than that often, the gap between being the best in your country and the best in the world can be quite slim. Plenty have the talent, but sometimes what separates the very good from the best can come down to a few external factors like luck with injuries and getting the right breaks when it comes to career development.

Above all is the amount of extremely hard work you put in and he himself says that was a key difference. He admitted in Zurich that in the build-up towards his vastly disappointing seventh place at the Great Edinburgh XCountry the previous winter he had lacked the motivation. He said: "In January there was a point in my career when I was like, 'How much do I want it? Are you still hungry? Are you still going to work?' Edinburgh showed I didn't work as hard. I was enjoying a bit more of life. But you can't do that when you're at this level. You have to be able to put in the work - eat, sleep, train."

His friend and British rival Andy Butchart talked along similar lines in Birmingham after competing in Farah's last British track race. "Every athlete gets a lot of hate, there's always keyboard warriors, but the thing I see with Mo is that he works hard," he said. "I've seen people that have won championships and I've seen them at training camps and they just jog on the spot."

He will surely have to work even harder if he is to stay on top in the marathon. The competition, some predict, will be tougher and he may not be suited at all to the distance. The career that started out some 20 years ago and took a key turn seven years ago is far from over.

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