Tokyo 2020 opinion: Britain’s Mo Farah missed out on a 10,000m Olympic final he could have won
For the first time in nine years, Farah is not the Olympic 10,000m champion. But the British distance great may well have watched on from home with regret, knowing he could have challenged for medals in a slow final won by Selemon Barega. You want it? We have it. Stream every Olympic event live on discovery+.
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Last month, the four-time gold medallist from London 2012 and Rio 2016 missed two opportunities to qualify within the required time to go to a fourth Games, but the way the race panned out in Japan may raise questions about how the criteria is set
On the race itself, Barega was a deserved champion. The 21-year-old Ethiopian got his tactics spot on to win a slow race in 27:43.22, but that is exactly where the issues lie regarding qualification. Distance races are not always about times - they are about getting your game plan right. If the pack does not want to run fast, the pack will not run fast.
Farah needed to run within 27:28 to make the plane, but in two attempts he failed to do it. He did, though, win his second effort at the British Athletics Championships in a time of 27.43.22. Running that in Tokyo would have earned him a sixth-place finish - and who is to say with his famous kick, motivated by the desire to retain a title he has held since London 2012, that he could not have summoned what was needed to outsprint Barega?
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It sounds like sour grapes, but it feels like an immense shame. Farah admitted after his first attempt to qualify, at the European Athletics 10,000m Cup on June 5, that he had been nursing an ankle injury. Just three weeks later, in slightly better shape, he improved but fell short again.
Anyone who has run before - whether you are a Couch to 5k runner, a parkrun regular or a speed demon - knows niggles are difficult to fully shake off in such a short amount of time, though Farah has not used that as an excuse.
By the standards set by World Athletics, Farah did not do enough. Every athlete had the same criteria, and for someone so tactically astute, he left it until the very last moment to try and qualify, having had from January 1 2019 to achieve the required time. Granted, he only announced his return to the track in December that year, and shortly after that coronavirus struck, but even then he would have been leaving it late to qualify for when the Games were originally scheduled last summer. His final attempt was just three days before the cut-off - it was real fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants stuff and the gamble did not pay off.
That is on Farah, but you do wonder whether athletics’ governing body has got qualification right when it comes to the 5000m and 10,000m. What the alternative is will be open to suggestion, but the beauty of these track races - and the distance road events - is the purity of racing your rivals and not necessarily times.
In the future, should this be considered? Might there be a range of qualifying times, allowing National Olympic Committees to make sensible judgements based on conditions and race quality? That is a metric which is difficult to measure, but you do wonder whether there is an innovative solution somewhere.
Of the 25 runners who lined up in the Tokyo final, only 16 had run within the qualifying time this season. Seven had not even raced a 10,000m event on the track in 2021. It showed Farah the value of getting the work in early, but potentially also exploited further flaws in the system.
At 38, the British distance great says he is not done yet and this is not the way he wants to sign off. We will see him again before he retires, and the likes of world record holder Joshua Cheptegui may well have gone up a level that Farah can no longer live with when they are flying. But there is no doubt that the Tokyo Olympic final ended up being made for him, and that is a huge disappointment.
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