What is Mo Farah’s legacy after retirement from running? Well, it’s complicated | Mo Farah

What is Mo Farah’s legacy after retirement from running? Well, it’s complicated | Mo Farah

No sooner had the final race of Mo Farah’s career come to an end on Sunday than the eulogies began. “Thanks for the memories, the medals, the excitement, the smile, the Mobot, it’s all been memorable,” the BBC’s Steve Cram proclaimed after Farah had finished fourth in the Great North Run, before hailing him as “one of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen”.

It was a celebration worthy of a deity: varnished, soaked in saccharine, shaved of any rough edges. And incomplete.

Take it from someone with a front‑row seat at Farah’s four Olympic gold medals, five of his six world titles, and many of his media love-ins and dust-ups: his legacy is more complex and disputed.


Many will retain a solitary image of Farah above all: the lovable refugee from Somalia, stealing the nation’s hearts at the London 2012 Games. But you don’t reach the summit, and remain there into your mid‑30s, without guile or immense steel.

The former UK Athletics performance director Neil Black put it best. “You may have read things about Mo,” he said. “But the critical bit is that on the start line he believes that he can run the last 400m faster than anyone. He believes he could lift any weight heavier than his rivals. And he believes that if he had to fight anyone there he could kick the shit out of them.”

The crucial formula was being able to run 400m in 49 seconds. It meant that from 2011 to 2017 his races followed a familiar script: his opponents helpless as a 5,000m or 10,000m evolved into a one‑lap sprint finish, a Mobot, and a medal ceremony.

He now heads into retirement holding British records at almost every distance from 1500m to the marathon. But where the Farah story veers next depends on whether you are a sceptic or a believer; there are plenty of both in track and field.

The sceptics? They point to his late development into the world’s super elite – his first global title came at 28 – and the fact that his greatest triumphs came while coached by Alberto Salazar, who was banned for four years in 2019 for “orchestrating and facilitating prohibited doping conduct” after an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency. Salazar denied any wrongdoing but lost his appeal.


And the believers? They note that Farah has never been charged with any offences, and has always denied any wrongdoing. Meanwhile Salazar attributed Farah’s success to better preparation after moving to his Nike Oregon Project group in late 2010. “He was flitting around before joining us,” he said. “His training was haphazard. He was all over the place. He did no weight training. And technically, Mo tended to over‑stride towards the end of races.”

Opinions remain divided over Salazar. Black once hailed him as a “genius”, while others were appalled at stories of him testing banned testosterone on his sons. Salazar said he did this to see if someone could be sabotaged into a positive doping test.

However, Farah felt a tremendous loyalty to Salazar, not only sticking with him for two years after a BBC/ProPublica investigation raised concerns in 2015, but refusing to put the knife in even after he was banned, when it would have been the easier public relations move.

Farah alongside Alberto Salazar at a Diamond League press conference in Birmingham in 2011.
Farah alongside Alberto Salazar at a Diamond League press conference in Birmingham in 2011. Farah has never been charged with any offences and has always denied any wrongdoing in regards to his relationship with the disgraced coach. Photograph: Steven Paston/Action Images/Reuters

Maybe that does him credit. But I will also never forget a fractious encounter at the 2019 Chicago marathon, when Farah was asked whether he felt let down by Salazar and replied: “I feel let down by you guys to be honest. The headline is Farah, Farah, Farah. There is no allegation against me. I’ve not done anything wrong. Let’s be clear – these allegations are about Alberto Salazar and the Oregon Project.” Later that month Nike closed down the Oregon Project, saying the situation around Salazar was creating too great a distraction for the athletes.

While he didn’t always see eye to eye with the press, Farah always faced them, in good times and bad, in glory and under fire. He would never have made a great poker player, however. His “tells” when nervous – particularly his short sentences – were obvious.


It all meant that covering the wild twists of Farah’s career was rarely boring. If he wasn’t chasing gold medals, he was fending off questions about L-Carnitine, US Anti-Doping, or his links with the controversial coach Jama Aden. In 2019 he even managed to turn an otherwise sedate London marathon press conference into a huge story by criticising the legendary athlete Haile Gebrselassie after a bag containing £2,600, a Tag watch and two mobile phones was stolen from his hotel in Ethiopia.

It sparked days of allegation and counter-accusation, with Gebrselassie claiming that Farah had not paid his $3,000 hotel bill, despite a 50% discount, and had “punched and kicked a husband and his wife”. Farah’s team insisted he was acting in self-defence after his training partner Bashir Abdi was threatened – and claimed the athlete’s wife came at him holding dumbbells. Farah has never commented on the hotel bill.

When Farah spoke there would often be a twinkle in his eye. I particularly remember him making a friendly rabbit ears gesture to one journalist at the 2021 UKA Olympic trials, before warmly greeting him with an “OK mate”. The affection was genuine. But it was also puzzling, given a couple of years earlier it was reported that Farah had sued the same person.

Mo Farah celebrates winning the men’s 5,000m final at the London Olympics in 2012.
Mo Farah celebrates winning the men’s 5,000m final at the London Olympics in 2012. It proved to be the most super of Saturdays for the athlete. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Even now Farah continues to make headlines – most recently with his claims that he was trafficked as a child after his father was killed in the civil war. He also remains Britain’s most popular athlete, even though Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Josh Kerr won gold at the recent world championships.

That was obvious from the wall of sound that greeted him along the 13.1 miles from Newcastle to South Shields. For those fans, Farah’s legacy is simple: king of his sport, knight of the realm, a medal factory extraordinaire. Others, though, will never have such blind faith.


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