Ewan MacKenna: 'Farah's furious row with Haile Gebrselassie should have us asking how we will remember 'Sir Mo''
At 8.32am on 22 April, Mo Farah decided to pull the trigger good and early, and fire off the first round. His loyal and cultish defenders often talk about the lack of a smoking gun, but in this case we'd like to hear their thoughts given he'd just shot himself in the face with it.
The hilarity had begun.
This has been the most bizarre and most wonderful little sporting side-story in a long while. It's like wandering into some low-budget movie you've no clue about at the Sundance Film Festival, and emerging a couple of hours later realising people waste their time on blockbusters. While often ego and idiocy share a space of varying size in the middle of the Venn diagram, this case showed that with Farah, they might be the very same circle. For there was no reason to do it and still, that morning, his text to Haile Gebrselassie was this...
"Dear Haile, I want to inform you that I am very disappointed that you are not have made any effort to find my stolen money and especially my watch, I have tried to contact you by telephone several times. Know that I am not responsible for what I say during the press conference in London and what influence it will have on your personality and that of your business. Greetings from a very disappointed friend. Sir Mo."
The sign off said much. The content said even more.
Humility and decency in equal measure.
By now you'll be plenty aware of that press conference for last weekend's London Marathon and to be fair he was good to his word. Not even asked and without a person there any the wiser, he let it all out. "Training has gone well and everything else, but there was a slight problem with my hotel in Ethiopia." From there he spoke about the £2,600 and treasured watch and two phones stolen. Little did he know he had been keeping his friends close and his enemies closer.
Come at the true king and you'd better not miss, Sir Mo. And with Gebrselassie since, it's been relentless. Initially he said he'd stepped in and sorted out a potential assault charge after Farah went berserk in the gym. Then he threw in Jama Aden and claimed Farah had previously tried to gain the disgraced coach access to the hotel and had been refused, thus his lurking ire. They were pointed lines that hit previous wounds, causing them to again open and bleed.
There may not be anything surprising, revelatory or new in this given what else we know but there were a couple of important elements. First it reminded of the lack of self-awareness around Farah as once more his mouth wrote a cheque his brain has failed to cash. Secondly it reminded that if you've buried bodies, best not to annoy the person that knows where.
Farah had brought all this on himself and we can only thank him for it.
That's because some cowboys shouldn't be simply let ride off into the sunset.
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This week, a tweet came through from Vern Gambetta. Once a consultant coach for the Nike Oregon Project and the co-founder of the USA track and field's coaching education program, he was brisk and cutting. "If anyone thinks this guy is a clean athlete you should have you head examined," he said of the British superstar. So it's back to this.
To the allegations. To the mask. To the smoke. To the mirrors.
We don't like to revisit many issues but some deserve it and in this we take pleasure.
That's because athletes fall into various categories from heroic to odious. It isn't always even based on results or how they obtained them, with dopers like Floyd Landis an example of one of the good and interesting guys. But Farah, no matter what he won and how he won it, is a different animal. Indeed better than most in the sporting sphere, he warns that what you are marketed and sold so slickly can be very different to the reality.
For instance it's a little over a year now since he decided to go after Ben Bloom for a social media post and take him for five figures in a legal case that also demanded he say sorry. Bloom did apologise, writing: “On 2 Aug 17, I published a Tweet which may have been understood to suggest that Sir Mo Farah had used illegal substances in his athletics career. This was not my intention, I accept this would be untrue & unreservedly apologise to Mr Farah & his family for the distress caused.”
The journalist's crime had been to offer up an opinion. "Mo Farah is refusing to speak to newspapers ahead of London 2017. It's cowardly and he's doing athletics a disservice." His tweet was accompanied by screen grabs of a more in-depth analysis from Bloom. Granted it was probably no more cowardly than Farah after this marathon being quizzed about the latest Aden revelations, as he suggested they should instead talk about the race winner, before having staff protect him from basic queries after he had started all of this.
If that was more of the old, Sunday also brought about something new and added another element of the Farah story though. As he came home fifth, it was clear the best days are behind him so what has he left?
Legacy. That's all.
So how will he be remembered?
So what will he be remembered for?
If you want to believe Farah is clean, that's good for you. I do admire an optimist. Farah himself would call it realism, but let's go through the long list of questions that require a healthy dose of scepticism.
Are to we believe that it was normal even as a distance runner that he smashed through a relatively high glass ceiling aged 27? Are we to believe it was coincidence that around that time he started taking trips to Kenya and Ethiopia, once memorably with Paula Radcliffe. Are we to believe his two missed tests were mistakes? Are we to believe one was because of a quiet doorbell?
Are we to believe that his rise from good to all-time great had nothing to do with his move around that time to the Nike Oregon Project and Alberto Salazar who is under investigation for doping? Are we to believe that Aden - who in 2016 was arrested in Spain with anabolic steroids, EPO and 60 syringes - didn't know him despite a Nike Oregon employee saying Aden approached them at a European indoor event and said he'd worked a lot with Farah? Are we to believe his 2013 European 1,500m record was a sign of the man, rather than who he hung around with, given there'd be no suggestions he was that calibre at that distance yet was working with the controversial coach John Smith at that intersection? Smith has been accused of using banned substances but denies any wrongdoing.
Are we to believe he was confused as to his whereabouts in 2014 when he posted a photo of himself training in what he said was Font Romeu despite it being two hours away in Sabadell? Are we to believe it had nothing to do with the latter being a track Aden uses? Are we to believe the accreditation was wrong when it said he was there with Aden's group?
Are we to believe it was a slip if of the mind when he wrongly said he only ever had one TUE? Are we to believe the second TUE was just for 50ml of L-carnitine, a dose 20 times less that Alberto Salazar had been experimenting on employee Steve Magness with?
Are we to believe at the Rio Olympics his continued denials of knowing Aden were merely his general level of intelligence given he'd been in multiple photos not just with him but eating with his family? Are we to believe his autobiography made a mistake when he said he knew Aden? Are we to believe British Athletics when they said they weren't using Aden despite director of endurance Barry Fudge being snapped with him? Are we to believe UK Athletics chairman Ed Warner saying Farah's behaviour was inexcusable was him being one more hater?
And now are we to believe Gebrselassie is just bitter and Farah is yet again the victim?
Maybe so, and if all that holds up, then we salute you Sir Mo.
Remember, when you hear hoofbeats, think of horses and not zebras.