Since spectacularly becoming a double gold medallist at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Mo Farah’s life has been a whirlwind.
Watching him run to glory in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at the Olympic Stadium were his heavily pregnant wife Tania and daughter Rhianna, now ten. Just two weeks later, Tania gave birth to twin daughters Amani and Aisha, and in October last year, they became parents to their first boy, Hussein.
During that time, Mo has moved to the United States, endured a doping scandal, and repeated his double gold win at last year’s World Athletics Championships. RT caught up with him while making his final Games preparations…
With Rio nearly here, how are you feeling?
My training is going pretty well and I’m in a good place. There’s just a little bit of training for three more weeks. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
Your life must have changed a lot since 2012.
Yes, definitely, both as an athlete and as a family man. The family changes the way you think and the way you do everything. You’ve got to plan stuff, and I’m not really good at that!
I’m just easy-going and I like to wake up and go, “Yeah, cool, let’s go and do this today”, but with four kids it’s harder to be spontaneous.
You’ve spent the summer doing high altitude training in the French mountains. Do you miss your children when you’re away?
Of course. Sometimes Amani will say to me, “Daddy, why do you have to run? When are you going to stop running?” I say, “Daddy’s training, and I want to come home, but I’m working hard for a reason.” Hopefully one day they’ll understand. Amani’s starting to understand, but Aisha gets a little upset. It’s pretty hard, but actually it’s going to be worth it and that’s what drives me every day. I want to get those medals. I don’t want to disappoint my family.
Did your family inspire your new book?
I wanted to write something for the kids. I’m a big kid myself and so
I said, “Well, I’ve done adult [Mo’s autobiography is called Twin Ambitions], so why don’t I do a picture book next?” Ready Steady Mo! is about a little boy runner, based on me,
and I hope it will inspire kids to get running. Amani loves it. She loves animals, so she inspired the animal characters in the book.
Family man Mo with his wife Tania and children Rhianna, Amani and Aisha
You recently went back to the house where you grew up in Djibouti in Somalia for the BBC1 documentary Mo. What was that like?
Where I grew up wasn’t good. As a kid, I didn’t quite understand it. Going back brought back memories I haven’t thought about for years. One of the reasons I wanted to do the documentary was to show who I am and why I do what I do.
You lived in a tin-roofed shack, didn’t you?
Yes – it was basic. As long as you had food in your mouth and you were breathing, that was fine. That was a good life. There was nothing more. No opportunities. As a kid, we didn’t have toys – we played in sewage, we played with what was there. The house I grew up in was tiny – eight of us, all crammed into one room. If you see where I live now, it’s a big difference, and I’m grateful because I can show people that if you work hard at something, you can achieve.
Would you be a double Olympian if you hadn’t grown up in such poverty?
No. I think that gave me a massive boost. It made me realise in life, you have to work for it.
You were separated from your twin brother, Hassan, aged eight, when you came to live in London with your parents, because he was too ill to travel. Do you talk about that when you see him?
All the time. Suddenly I was on the other side of the world without him. We didn’t see each other for ten years. With the civil war, everybody moved about and we didn’t know where he was. It was only when Mum went back that she found him.
Everything happens for a reason. There’s no point chasing the past. But I don’t know if I would have achieved as much if Hassan had been here, because we always encouraged each other to mess about. He was the cheeky one and he’d say something and I’d stand up for him and get into a fight! It might have been a distraction.
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What was life like when you came to Britain?
On my first day of school, the only thing I could say in English was, “Come on, then”, so I said that and I got a black eye! So I had to learn a lot more words quickly, and nicer words.
Other than learning English, how did you become “British” and settle into the country?
Sport is a great leveller. I remember at my school, everyone wore a black tie with a white stripe, but if you did a sport at county level, they gave you a tie with gold stripes. And that made you stand out. I got one of those in assembly and people thought it was very cool.
Then when I was 16, I remember putting on a Great Britain vest for the first time, in Poland, for an under-18s running competition, and that was one of my proudest moments. All I ever wanted to do was run for Great Britain.
I remember getting on the team bus and being given the kit and looking at it and thinking, “Wow”. That was a special moment.
And now here you are, preparing for your second Olympic Games…
I never thought my life would change so much. That’s the bit that really makes me think sometimes. You have more responsibility. I’ve become someone else, really. It’s hard, but I love what I do and I wouldn’t change it.
You must have felt under scrutiny last year when your coach Alberto Salazar was accused of doping. Do you feel vindicated by your decision to stick by him?
That’s another reason why I wanted to do the documentary – to show people what I get up to. I just wish more countries would do what we do [in terms of drug testing]. It’s so easy when you watch someone on TV to think, “Woah, he must be doing something [illegal].” But if you see the reality of what I have to do to achieve what I achieve – there’s no cutting corners.
Is it a relief to have that behind you now?
It is in a way, but you can only control certain things. I’m in control of myself, but I’m not in control of what goes on around me. I wanted to show I’m always 100 per cent behind sport being clean.
Mo Farah: Race of His Life is on tonight at 9pm on BBC1