Thursday 18 July 2019

Ewan MacKenna: Mo Farah has more questions to answer than gold medals - and the facts are stacking up against him

Mo Farah
Mo Farah
Ewan MacKenna

Ewan MacKenna

"You know, when they forced Khrushchev out, he sat down and wrote two letters to his successor. He said, ‘When you get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of, open the first letter, and you’ll be safe. When you get yourself into another situation you can’t get out of, open the second letter'.

"Well, soon enough, this guy found himself in a tight place, so he opened the first letter which said, ‘Blame everything on me.’ So he blames the old man. It worked like a charm. He got himself into a second situation he couldn’t get out of; he opened the second letter. It said, ‘Sit down, and write two letters."

General Ralph Landry, Traffic

The next time Mo Farah runs into Bradley Wiggins he ought to buy him a pint. And 20 smokes, of course. And the latter can puff away and they can compare notes on making it to the top of their endurance sports with asthma, by beating off those who've tried to cheat them and their integrity. When that's done, the former can wheeze a thank you towards Wiggins, as it's owed. Big time.

For some, in terms of Farah, this may seem the equivalent of that first letter. Just consider how many times, relatively, you've heard his name these past 10 days? That's because cycling has left little room for much else, but it ought to as there shouldn't be a limit on space when it comes to bullshit and bullshitters. That's not meant in relation to the legal aspect of doping as you can judge that for yourself, but the moral aspect of respecting your sport and your fans and yourself.

If you think it's unfair, wait until you get to the end.

Last Monday – the day after Farah was back on the road winning, and talking about his next record attempt, and the London Marathon - his name cropped up in the UK parliamentary report into doping.

"The committee was shocked to hear that the former chief medical officer of UK Athletics, Dr Chakraverty, gave an injection of L-carnitine to Mo Farah – a treatment that Dr Charkraverty had never before given and that Mo Farah had never before received – yet did not record the dose on Farah’s medical records."

It added that it should be investigated by their medical council.

Indeed when this was initially revealed last year the then chairman of UK Athletics, Ed Warner, said it was 'inexcusable' and still, Mo has proven to be be Teflon. As a microcosm, just think about how Wiggins' retrospective therapeutic use exemption for Kenacort rightly made waves in the news but how Farah's reception of the same has never been dragged through the grinder of public opinion.

Worse - being kind, as the alternative is that he lied - Farah's recollection of this has been poor. In and of itself there was no rule-breaking but it did set a trend, for no one knew about it and the athlete was happy to keep it that way. For years Farah claimed to have only ever received one TUE in his career, after he collapsed at high-altitude in Utah in 2014, but this begins our voyage through all the smoke and mirrors that surround and envelop him.

There's a misconception out there these days that journalism can somehow bring anything from doping to corruption in sport to its knees. It cannot. It can point fingers and ask questions and do a little digging but there's usually too much money at stake for too many high-powered people for mere media to unearth the smoking guns. Lance Armstrong was dropped because of the Feds in America. Sepp Blatter and Fifa too. As for what's emerging via the other side of the Cold War divide, you can thank Fancy Bears who are essentially a division of the KGB. This is deep state stuff.

But there is a weapon for mere civilians. What they must rely on is logic based on the facts. It means that journalism's job is often to pull back the veil, let fans see the reality, and let them make up their own minds. So let's do that. Let's look at Farah through journalism and not marketing.

As an example - and pushed foremost by a TV element within the BBC that serve for some as the Ministry of Agitation and for most as the successful Ministry for Propaganda - over and over we are told about and sold on the wholesome family man that's down to earth and fun. That may be true, but how many times are we reminded that the story tends to have two sides. For instance you don't hear much about how Farah had to shut down his charity that saw a school in Nairobi speak out, having been sent 50 pairs of 20p socks for its 900 kids, after that that same charity spent £81,726 on a London ball which is close to what they spent on all their African efforts.

That's not personal, rather it shows up the lack of balance around Farah. It's the same in his professional life and it's that which made the parliamentary committee's use of 'shocked' as disappointing as it was unsurprising. Put it this way, hearing of the latest resuscitation of the L-carnitine issue, a friend was called who knows plenty about both substance and athlete.

"If that's what they're focusing on around Farah, it's a waste," they said.

"After everything, that's all they got? It'd be like nailing Team Sky for vitamin injections as syringes are technically banned. It's mild compared to the rest we know. People can't and don't see the complete picture."

It got you thinking. What about that complete picture of Mo Farah.

* * *

"Mo, distance running has had some heroes - Zatopek, Viren, Gebrselassie. What does it feel like to enter that pantheon of the greats?"

Question at the press conference after the men's 10,000m at the 2016 Olympics.

For a long time, Mo Farah was good but no more. Insiders suggest as an interesting comparison, look at the far from spectacular American Matt Tegenkamp, as he beat Farah at the 2007 World Championships, finished less than a second behind him in 2009, but was destroyed come 2011. There are other barometers too. Both Matt and Chris Solinsky raced Farah on the circuit a lot and beat him plenty. They are of similar age but their careers were all but over after 2012.

You run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking, we're told. Only Farah did catch up. The majority of his 20s bypassed him in terms of the levels we've come to expect and then late in the day came the kick. It was quite a journey from that Mo to this Mo and the cheap and easy rationale is usually that he was training like an amateur until going to America. But that's not true.

Up to that point in 2011 he was on a steady upward curve while working under Alan Storey, one of the best distance coaches about. He may have been messing a little but not that much, and he'd managed to find his level. He was seventh in those worlds in 2009 and in 2010, while training in Britain, he definitely took a step forward. It wasn't so much the double gold at the European Championships but the 12 minutes 57 seconds he ran for 5,000 metres. It seemed a glass ceiling.

The problem with all this is what happened next, and why and how that happened.

Fancy Bears have done a lot to discredit the integrity of a hero. By the start of 2011, in the run-up to his first world title, we'd learn much later that a United States Anti-Doping Agency report not meant for public consumption showed Farah, having moved to work with coach Alberto Salazar and his Nike Oregon Project, was on potentially harmful treatments and, when one doctor was alarmed enough to raise the dangers with UK Athletics, they buried it.

Part of his cocktail involved calcitonin in high volumes which has the potential to be carcinogenic. Another part was 83 times the daily recommended amount of Vitamin D, which potentially risked his health as he has hypercalciuria. It would be years before we knew this, and clearly we were never meant to know. Which in itself tells a troubling tale.

If the 2011 worlds began to change how he was viewed as a star was born (he won 5,000m gold and would have likely added the 10,000m but for kicking too early) the reason for the transformation was and is often credited with that move to Oregon. However, much like we are entitled to ask about Chris Froome, it shouldn't take until you're 27 to show you've champion talent, even in distance running. Farah never showed it until that transfer to Portland.

What changed? That's where this gets interesting.

According to a source in the Nike Oregon Project, 'Even while training with Salazar during that 2011-12 period, he'd spend altitude trips in Kenya or Ethiopia. It was in January 2011 that Jama Aden came up to me at an indoor meet in Europe and mentioned that they were close friends and Mo trained with his group quite a lot. Aden also would occasionally send training workouts of his runners to Alberto to show them what his athletes did.' On this, several elements are worth noting.

Firstly, Salazar and his Nike-Oregon Project are under investigation in the States, having initially been shown up in a Panorama documentary thanks to the whistle-blowing of former coach Steve Magness. Secondly, Aden was arrested in 2016 in Spain following a lengthy investigation and 24-hour surveillance resulting in a police raid that found EPO in six rooms of his and his team's hotel along with anabolic steroids and 60 syringes. Thirdly, when later asked if he knew Aden, Farah denied it. And fourthly this was during a period where he missed two doping tests - the second of which saw testers ring his doorbell for an hour only for him to fail to answer and his excuse was that he slept through it all.

This is all a matter of record and, rather than a means of accusing Farah, it has left him with repeated chances to answer and explain what happened. Tick tock. Tick tock.

It was also during this period – in 2012 - that Farah and Paula Radcliffe were reported to be training together in the remote Kenyan village of Iten in the Rift Valley. It was from here that she came back with a biological passport off-score that nearly got her banned. He, however, did the 5,000m and 10,000m double at his home Olympics. Although never a zero, how many predicted this hero?

That marked the beginning of Farah becoming unbeatable at championships. But think about about the various elements. As an example, in 2013 he broke the European 1,500m record which started drawing unwanted glares. That's because Farah hadn't shown the capacity to be really good at that distance, never mind better than all the greats like Coe, Cram, Ovett and others. If that, along with Aden and Salazar, raised unanswered questions though, so did what followed.

Before long he was working more with Salazar's friend, sprint coach John Smith who had taken drugs as an athlete back in the 1970s and had a few of those that worked under him fail tests as well. He also continued to train in Kenya although, by co-incidence we're told, sources say this finished around the time the country stepped up their anti-doping programme by opening a lab there. It was then Farah suddenly switched his winter base to Ethiopia. At other times of the year, there were other bases too, not that Farah was always sure of where they were, or where exactly he was.

Take a bizarre incident from July 2014 where he Tweeted a photo that remains to this day. Underneath it read, 'In Font Romeu... Trainings going good!! next stop..... commonwealth Games...!! Shabba'. There was just one problem though, the photo of his workout wasn't from the southern French town, but from Sabadell, a two-hour drive away in Spain.

It is true that many athletes live and work out at altitude and drive across the border to do their harder sessions, but this remains significant as Sabadell is where Aden's group gathered for chunks of the year and where he would eventually get busted. The publication tried to pull Farah up on this stating: 'Yesterday, we reached out to Farah’s agent Ricky Simms and asked him if Farah had ever been to Sabadell and he responded, 'I am not aware of Mo ever training there.'

Furthermore, accreditation seen for Sabadell shows Farah in a group that contains the likes of Genzebe Dibaba whom Laura Muir last week hit out at due to her Aden connections, as well as Ayanleh Souleiman and Abdalelah Haroun who have also had shadows cast over their achievements by their coaching association. It was also around this time that Farah took his legal infusion of L-carnitine but was subsequently placed under investigation about whether it breached the legal limit of 50ml.

That was baffling as the aforementioned Steve Magness was used as a guinea pig by Alberto Salazar when being infused with over a litre of the substance. Here we are told it was suddenly diluted 20 times before Farah was given it. Two plus two doesn't equal five.

Still, 2014 was good to Farah with another double at the Europeans, and 2015 was even better with another double at the worlds. Yet just a month before those latter victories in Beijing, Farah admitted to taking a drug called Khat that wasn't banned at the time he says he took in 2003, but was five months later. A plant that acts as a stimulant, he says he ingested it while in Somalia. And two months after those latter victories something far more momentous was presented to those in high enough positions that we weren't supposed to get wind of and wouldn't for some time.

On 23 November 2015, a select few will have become aware of him being flagged as a potential cheat on an IAAF passport list. This was only leaked, again by Fancy Bears, with his entry 26th on a list reading: 'Likely doping. Passport suspicious. Further data is required.' Basically it was the highest warning about an athlete doing wrong, with others on that list down the grading curve.

Farah had been in London shortly before this test although the reason for his quick visit back home is unknown. The test was actually carried out in Portland after his return there to the Nike-Oregon Project but little was done about this. It is worth noting as well that the IAAF themselves saw it fit to test Farah more than almost any other athlete, and while we know that means little in terms of catching people due to both testers, science and politics, it is important as the governing body clearly saw his as a target.

So what happened next?

All we know is that by then his friend Seb Coe had risen to the top job in the IAAF. And six months on another IAAF in-house email stated that his results 'very recently became ‘normal''. This is not an insinuation, rather the reality of the timeline. Yet on it goes.

In January of 2016, Farah was back in the presence of Aden. We know this due to an Instagram post from 1,000m indoor world record holder Souleiman. British Athletics have stated they did not use Aden in any capacity that year, although Aden’s Facebook page showed him in Africa that February coaching right next to UK Director of Endurance, Barry Fudge. By June, Farah was the one drawing attention on social media. This time actually in Font Romeu, he live streamed a session to which testers showed up at the beginning looking for a sample, but he gloatingly made them wait two hours - this as an athlete who has continually pushed for his sport to clean up.

Soon after he did the double-double at the Olympics and at a press conference after his first Rio gold he was again asked about Aden. He denied knowing him, despite his autobiography containing a section with lines such as, 'We had known each other for years'; despite photos of Aden and Farah together at the Diamond League meeting in Doha in 2015; despite photos posted by Aden's daughter on Twitter just days after that meeting in 2015 with the comment, 'But the actual Mo Farah and my Dad are very close friends... they train together sometimes'; despite photos of Aden and Farah on the track from 21 January, 2016. In fact the only photo of the two together Farah has ever managed to explain away was taken in February 2016.

It took an age, but there were those in officialdom that wanted to delve deeper. But there were also those that just further raised suspicions with their responses. It was a year ago that USADA asked UK Anti-Doping if they could go through Farah's historic records as part of their investigation into Salazar. But they were rebuffed with UKAD chief executive Nicole Sapstead releasing a statement regarding its stance on revisiting historic tests.

"Each time a sample is reanalysed or sent to another location, the amount contained within a sample can be reduced or has the potential to degrade which limits the possibility to test again in the future," she said. As for Farah, he's said little other than reflex denials, but he ought to be reminded that silence speaks when words fail.

Such is society, there'll always be those that never believe and those that always believe. But for the rest who are without bias and with logic, they're left awaiting an explanation. Without it, they just might start suggesting it's time that Sir Mo arose and opened up that second letter.

Online Editors

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