The HINDU – Wednesday, July 04, 2012 - Last month when Mo Farah, a British athlete of Somali origin, won the European 5,000m crown, he became the first man in history to successfully defend it. The victory, coming just before the London Olympic Games, would be a confidence-booster for him.
Farah was born in Mogadishu in war-torn Somalia. At the age of eight he moved to a west London suburb along with his father, who was a British citizen. Alan Watkinson, his physical education teacher in school, was the first to spot his talent. At the schools’ cross-country championship in England in 1996, when he was barely 14, he finished second, and that too, after he had started running in the wrong direction. Watkinson immediately realised that he was dealing with someone special.
Fascinated by training
When he took to full time running after leaving school, he moved into a house in Teddington, London, with top Kenyan athletes, including the 5,000m world champion Benjamin Limo. He found the lifestyle and training regimen of the African athletes invigorating. The desire to reach the pinnacle of sporting excellence was kindled.
A successful junior athlete when he won the European junior 5,000m title in 2001, his first success in the senior circuit was in 2006 at the European track and field championships where he won the silver. At the 2007 and 2009 world championships, with African athletes also in the fray, he finished a creditable sixth and seventh respectively.
In full flight
At the European championships in 2010, he won the 10,000m and 5,000m double. His fledgling athletic career was now in full flight. A year and a handful of races later, he became the first Brit to win the world 5,000m title.
Despite being born in a country stricken by poverty and lawlessness, Farah’s is not a rags-to-riches story. By his own admission his early life was a fairly comfortable one.
But for an athlete from Somalia, who landed in London speaking little English, to be regarded as one of Britain’s biggest hopes for success in 2012 Olympics is a great achievement in itself. He has become a symbol of multi-culturalism in a world where tolerance levels towards immigrants are fast approaching zero.Share on Facebook