'In that split-second I thought four years' work had gone,' admits Farah
In the blink of an eye, the rogue flick of a toe and the crash of a double Olympic champion thudding into the ground, Mo Farah feared his dreams were over.
It was just before the halfway stage of the 10,000m final on Saturday night that Farah, unaware of those behind him, felt his heel clipped and hit the deck.
"There was a lot of panic in my mind when I fell," he said, relaxing the morning after with sunglasses perched on his freshly shaven head in the Rio sunshine. "I thought, 'Oh God where am I.' As I went I was thinking, 'No, no, this can't be happening'. The heart was beating madly. In that split-second I thought four years had gone and it wasn't in my control."
It was the type of moment that haunts a professional athlete in their sleep. After hundreds of training sessions, months away from his family and thousands upon thousands of miles run, everything Farah had worked so hard for threatened to disappear in an instant.
But as quickly as the fears arose, they slipped away. Galen Rupp, his American team-mate who had been the cause of the contact, slowed to check everything was alright, Farah hauled himself up off the lurid blue track and went on win - making history as the first British track and field athlete to win three gold medals.
Search on YouTube and you will be able to find a horribly grainy video of a remarkably similar incident involving a remarkably similar athlete in a remarkably similar race. Lasse Viren, the only man to have successfully won a 'double-double' of Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m, was almost exactly the same distance through his opening race at the 1972 Munich Games when he fell just as Farah did. Like Farah, he dragged himself up and went on to claim the first of four Olympic titles.
"I've heard of him," said Farah, when asked about the Flying Finn's feats four decades ago. "But I'm too young to know much about it. It sounds like he's pretty good." Farah is not a man with much appetite for introspection. Ask if he considers himself as one of the all-time great distance runners and he avoids the question. It is up to other people to make that decision, he says.
Favourite to retain his 5,000m title this weekend and match Viren's achievement, there should be no doubt that he belongs up there with the best in history. And yet there is. Ever since the moment that his coach Alberto Salazar was accused of doping offences last summer, Farah has, in his own words, "had my name dragged through the mud".
Soon after, it emerged that he had missed two drugs tests in the run-up to London 2012 and when Jama Aden, a Somalian middle distance coach, was arrested on suspicion of possessing performance-enhancing drugs a couple of months ago, Farah was forced to explain multiple photos showing the two men alongside each other. That British Athletics admitted Aden had acted as an "unofficial facilitator" for some of Farah's training sessions did not help matters.
Asked again about his association with Aden, Farah insisted he cannot police every person he is photographed with. Instead he urged people to believe him when he says he has never cheated.
"It's difficult for me because I am an honest guy," he said. "I try to be honest in everything I do.
"The media have made it hard for me in the last year, nailing me for everything I do. It's been really tough on me.
"We should be able to enjoy our sport and enjoy this moment because my career is short." At a time when more people are being caught doping than ever before, there can be no apologies for a level of wariness, with even Farah describing Ethiopian Almaz Ayana's 10,000m world record last week as "crazy". (© Daily Telegraph, London)