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Ethiopians preparing to hunt down Farah and his quest to repeat his London heroics

By Ian Herbert

Published 20/08/2016

Tough test: Mo Farah has stiff competition in the 5,000m final
Tough test: Mo Farah has stiff competition in the 5,000m final

A warm night is expected on the east side of Rio de Janeiro tonight but Mo Farah anticipates the heat being on in the 5,000m final in other ways.

He feels he has a gang lying in wait in the stadium better known to Rio's cairocas as the Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange, after the one-time ruler of Brazilian football who died this week.

It is an Ethiopian gang; the triumvirate of Hagos Gebrhiwet, Dejen Gebremeskel and Muktar Edris, whom Farah feels will be as co-ordinated in their attempts to outpace him as a Tour de France cycling team.

He senses that this group will be issued with the express instructions to set a pace which forces him into fatigue, allowing one of their number to go for the kill on the last straight when Farah usually has that legendary last kick to drive him home.

Tonight is the race those Africans have earmarked to find him out. Gebrhiwet and Gebremeskel have both skipped the 10,000m to concentrate their efforts on Farah.

They have youth in their legs, too. Gebrhiwet is 22 and Gebremeskel 26, while Farah is 33 now. We could be witnessing little less than a 5,000m sprint tonight - such is the challenge of becoming the second man after Finland's Lasse Viren (1972/76) to retain both the 10,000m and 5,000m titles.

A consequence of this intense scramble to 'Get Mo' has been athletes inadvertently clipping his heels or running across him. It's happened twice in the past seven days. On such slender threads do hopes of a double gold hang.

Few are more self-aware than Farah when he competes. He has been the watchman of the pack in his last two races, lifting his head from the onward slog to fix a look left and right and steer a course. But the tangles have worried him. The way he articulated how he felt after his first gold last Saturday demonstrated it.

"No, no, this can't be happening. The heart beating madly. In that split second I thought four years had gone. And it wasn't in my control," he said.

In the circumstances, he is displaying extraordinary equanimity. He looks a winner in waiting. To witness him and his broad grin in the player/athlete mixed zone is to understand that the collective mission to deter him doesn't seem to make a psychological difference at all.

Neither do the obstinate questions about the company he keeps. The questions will persist until such a time as he severs his relationship with Alberto Salazar or Salazar provides a convincing answer to the findings unearthed by BBC Panorama journalist Mark Daley: that Farah's coach promoted testosterone-fuelled cheating for a 16-year-old.

He seems to lack any appreciation of how it looks to the outside world when he trains with Salazar and consorts with Jama Aden, the coach who hit the headlines when EPO was found at the Spanish hotel he and his athletes were staying at in June.

British Athletics maintains his entitlement to these relationships, though everyone would feel more comfortable if he could just move on. The knighthood which will follow these Games for him won't sit as well for many as it will for the other British Olympians who will be so decorated.

When it was put to Farah last Saturday that he had been pictured before a meal at Aden's house, he said it was not his fault if people asked for photographs.

Steve Magness, the University of Texas coach, contributed to the BBC's Panorama documentary on Salazar and worked with Salazar and Farah. He tweeted this week that Aden has told him that his friendship and training relationship with Farah goes back at least five years. British Athletics says Aden only holds the stopwatch for Farah.

Gold will not erase the questions about his professional relationships. But it will also elevate Farah to a new level of accomplishment. For tonight at least, it will be him, the Ethiopians, the track and nothing else - a race you will not take your eyes off.

Belfast Telegraph

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