Put the date in your diary: 12.30pm on Saturday 29 August. That is when Mohamed Farah will attempt to win the 5,000m world title for a third straight time, a feat no other runner has ever achieved. If, about 13 minutes later, he crosses the line first in Beijing he can surely expect to end the year not only as a triple world champion but as BBC Sports Personality of the Year and, if the Prime Minister’s support counts for anything, “Sir Mo”.
There was some disquiet in 2012 when Farah, described by Lord Coe as “Britain’s greatest athlete”, was awarded a CBE rather than a knighthood after winning Olympic gold at 10,000m and 5,000m. Since then David Cameron has spoken in favour of Farah becoming “Sir Mo”. Victory in China, after winning the 10,000m on the opening day, would surely secure it.
Farah, who lost out to Sir Bradley Wiggins as BBC Sports Personality in that golden year of 2012, remains hugely popular in Britain. He has run – and won – in all parts of the country on the track, on the road and in the mud. He has set records at several distances indoors and out, and one that will surely never be broken is for the highest decibel level at an athletics meeting, when he won the second of his gold medals in London’s Olympic Stadium.
That Olympic double made Farah Britain’s greatest distance runner. Not since the days of Brendan Foster, Dave Bedford and Dave Moorcroft in the 1970s and 1980s had a British man challenged consistently for global medals in the longest track races.
“He has millions of fans, and he has inspired thousands of people to think, ‘If he can do it, I’ll have a go.’ It’s wonderful to see,” says Moorcroft, whose 5,000m national record stood for 28 years before Farah broke it in 2010.
Moorcroft, who was chief executive of UK Athletics for nine years, has known and followed Farah since he first saw him run in a schools cross-country race in Bedfordshire nearly 20 years ago. “If anybody deserves a knighthood, Mo does. His collection of doubles [10,000m and 5,000m at the same championships] is staggering, and I think he will do it again in Beijing. He doesn’t just outrun his opponents, he out-thinks them. He has an aura, a presence; that’s what sets him apart. I think he’ll beat them all again.
“Of course it will be tough, and the recent controversy he has been caught up in hasn’t helped, but he loves a challenge and I see a man who wants to go out there and beat the best.”
The controversy Moorcroft mentions came in June when Farah’s coach, Alberto Salazar, was accused of being involved in doping, though Farah was not implicated. He has defended and supported his coach, with whom he still works, but has said he would split if allegations were proved. Last month he agreed to allow some of his blood test data to be revealed.
Farah is 32 but could run on for a while yet, with the Rio Olympics his main target next summer and the World Championships in 2017 being held at the scene of his greatest triumph, the London Olympic Stadium.
It’s not his age that matters, because plenty of people have shown you can keep running into your mid-30s,” says Moorcroft. “There are two things to consider: injuries and motivation. If there comes a point when he wakes up in the morning and is not 100 per cent up for it, it’s time to stop. But there is no sign of that at the moment and you can see he loves every minute of competing.”
Farah’s closest rival in the 5,000m is likely to be Ethiopian teen Yomif Kejelcha, who was the first runner this year to go under 13 minutes in the 5,000m. But Farah held off Kejelcha when they went head-to-head in Lausanne in July, and is expected to do it again in Beijing.
Mo Farah will race in the 5,000m at the Athletics World Championship tomorrow (Saturday 29 August) at 12.30pm, with the race viewable on BBC2 and British Eurosport