Sir Mo Farah: The End of an Era

By: Louis Sartori

Watching Alison Felix qualify for her fifth Olympics on Monday was a joy. It also got me more fired up for Sir Mo Farah’s last bid for his own Olympic legacy. Amidst all the Olympic Trials action, he raced this past Friday in a final attempt to make his way to Tokyo. Going for the Olympic standard, he competed in Manchester, on the first day of the British Athletics Championships where we fell well short of the Olympic standard running 27:47. This will be the first Olympic Games that Mo will not be competing in since 2008. That’s an impressive thirteen years consistently at the top of the sport.

While Mo has suggested that he doesn’t plan to retire, it’s hard not to imagine that this is an end of an era dominated by the Brit.

I should establish my Mo bias, I’m as unapologetic a fan as they come. I am British after all; it is somewhat of an obligation. Regardless of the final result, we can still marvel at the fact that 2008 was a long time ago--to think Mo was doing his thing back then; and is STILL doing it now is impressive. But, the Olympics won’t be the same without the signature Mo-Bot celebration at the finish line. In this piece, I want to illustrate the significance of him missing the Olympics.

Back in the 2000s, Mo was there, racing the last generation of track superstars: the Bekeles, the Lagats, the Kipchoges. Through the 2010s, he raced their successors, the Kamworors, the Tanuis and the Karokis. Now, the guys he is competing against on the world stage form part of a new generation. A generation who were only boys back in 2008; Joshua Cheptegei was twelve years old back then, Rhonex Kipruto and Solomon Barega were only eight! Even in London 2012, when Mo claimed his first Olympic double, they were still barely in highschool. It's amazing to think that the sport’s current crop of talent probably watched Mo winning whilst growing up. How many of them anticipated that by the time they were competing with the big dogs, he would still be in the mix? Mo’s career spans multiple generations of track legends, but unfortunately we won’t be able to see him compete against this new generation of talent in Tokyo.

Whole careers have come about, burnt brightly and diminished all in the space between 2008 and now. Such has been the length of Mo’s Olympic career, that within it we’ve seen many great athletes both come and go within the timeframe. Some examples that come to mind are men like German Fernandez, who was in his last year of high school in 2008 and by 2017 had retired for good. Dennis Kimetto is also a worthy suggestion, the former marathon world record holder rose in the early 2010s but suffered with injuries since. He last raced in 2018, a DNF in Vienna. His career looks to be mostly over now. 

The evolution of the record books over the period between 2008 and 2021 can be used to illustrate the length and significance of Mo’s career. At the time of his first Olympics, the men’s marathon world record was held by Haile Gereselassie with his 2:04.26 mark. A seriously average time by today’s standards. In fact, 34 different men have now run under the 2:04.30 mark at least once in their careers. What was fast then, simply isn’t fast now. Without getting bogged down by the shoe debate, I think this is a testament to the quality of Mo’s career. He has clearly presided over the sport through a period of serious flux; in terms of rising performance levels.

Gebreselassie ruled the roads back in 2008. Look at the kits and shoes in the pictures, they scream bygone era

One funny thing I realized during research for this article though; the USA Olympic Trials for 2008 actually featured names that are also still relevant today. For example, in the men’s 10,000m one Abdi ‘Black Cactus’ Abdirahman came first, followed by Jorge Torres and more significantly Galen Rupp. Two of those three certainly aren’t done with their careers and are doing what Mo was hoping to also accomplish in making the Olympics. In the 1500m, Bernard Lagat and Lopez Lomong flanked Leo Manzano on the podium, the former two obviously still active, though it was sad to see Lomong dnf in the 10,000m in Eugene, the other day. 

All in all, I’m well aware that athletes other than Mo have longer Olympic streaks. I’m also aware that he was never really a medal favorite should he have made it to Japan. Nonetheless, Mo Farah is one of my favorite athletes ever and a massive draw for the public in Britain. His absence is highly significant and feels quite alien to me. The last time he was not at the games was in 2004, I was only 3 years old at the time!

Where does he go from here? I wouldn’t be surprised if retirement was the answer. Ultimately, whatever you think of Mo, (trust me, I’m well aware my admiration for him is not a universal attitude), he has had a great and storied career up until this point. Like Felix, I would be over the moon to see him extend it that bit further and give it another go in 2022 for the World Championships in Eugene.