August 19, 2015
How do you solve a problem like Mo Farah?
It’s the question that no one has been able to consistently answer since he switched to coach Alberto Salazar in 2011. Farah has suffered defeats since then — 12, in fact — but none at an outdoor championship since Ibrahim Jeilan upset him in the 10,000 four years ago in Daegu. Farah bounced back from that race to win the 5,000 crown seven days later and he hasn’t looked back since, sweeping the 5,000 and 10,000 at both the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World Championships.
Farah hasn’t slowed at all in 2015. He started it off by running his first world record, an 8:03.40 indoor two-mile on February 21, and since then has run extremely fast times at a variety of distances, from the the half marathon (59:32 in Lisbon on March 22), to the 10,000 where faced several of the world’s top 10,000 men at the Pre Classic and kicked away from them all in the homestretch (26:50.97 in Eugene on May 29), to the 1500 (3:28.93 in Monaco on July 17). Think about that for a minute. In the span of 118 days, Farah ran 59:32 for 13.1 and 3:28 for 1500 – that means he has the two things you need in distance running – great strength and speed.
And oh yeah, in the midst of that, he took on many of the world’s best in the 5,000 in Lausanne on July 9th and ripped them to shreds in a 13:11 race.
And so we enter another World Championships with Farah as the favorite, with the same question hanging in the air: how in the world do you beat someone with 3:28 1500 speed and 59:32 half marathon strength?
|2013 World Champs top five
1. Mo Farah, Great Britain 27:21.71
3. Paul Tanui, Kenya 27:22.61
4. Galen Rupp, USA 27:24.39
5. Abera Kuma, Ethiopia 27:25.272015 five fastest performers (among men entered)
1. Mo Farah, Great Britain 26:50.97
2. Paul Tanui, Kenya 26:51.86
3. Geoffrey Kamworor, Kenya 26:52.65
4. Cam Levins, Canada 27:07.51
5. Bedan Karoki, Kenya 27:15.33
How Farah could go down
Let’s get one thing straight off the bat: if the pace is slow and the field lets Farah do his usual thing and take control with a lap or two to go, nobody can beat him.
No one else in the field can come close to his speed. Remember, he’s the ninth-fastest man of all-time in the 1500 — he’s run faster than Fermin Cacho, Ayanleh Souleiman, Nick Willis, Steve Cram and Seb Coe. If the field lets Farah dictate the race, he’s going to win. Just watch the last two laps from Moscow. Farah moves to the front with 800 to go and from there it’s over. He doesn’t run any extra distance and is perfectly positioned to respond to any move. He couldn’t have drawn it up any better if he’d planned it. He did essentially the same thing the year before in London (he sat almost level with Tariku Bekele for the penultimate lap before moving to the front with 400 to go).
So to beat Farah, it would seem instructive to take note of his preferred style of race and make sure that doesn’t happen in Beijing (much, much easier said than done). Therefore, the best chance of beating Farah is to make sure he is unable to control the race in the final laps. That can be accomplished two ways, outlined in more detail below.
1) Drive a hard enough pace to drop Farah by the final lap (or at the very least, run the kick out of him)
This is incredibly difficult to do, given that perhaps the two greatest threats to Farah both raced him at the Pre Classic in May and neither of them could do it. Paul Tanui, the bronze medalist in Moscow, couldn’t manage it, and Farah kicked away from him in the final laps. And World XC champ Geoffrey Kamworor, the winner of the Kenyan Trials, couldn’t do it either. Unlike Tanui, Kamworor didn’t do any leading during the race and he was still toast with 100 meters to go.
The Pre Classic was at the end of May, however. Worlds are in August and Kamworor has a better chance in Beijing. On August 1 at the Kenyan Trials, he ran a sensational race, running a ridiculous 27:11 at altitude to win the Kenyan Trials, putting four seconds on runner-up Bedan Karoki over the final 600 meters. 27:11 at altitude is special – the previous best time ever run in Kenya was 27:26.93 by Wilson Kiprop in 2010. The 27:26 fitness at altitude by Kiprop resulted in him pullling off a huge upset of a seemingly unbeatable runner later that year. At the 2010 World Half Marathon Championships, Kiprop took down the seemingly unbeatable half-marathon world record holder Zersenay Tadese at the World Half-Marathon Champs, snapping Tadese’s four straight global titles at 20k/13.1.
Kamworor’s front-running, pushing the pace victory wasn’t the first time he’d pulled a move like that. Four months earlier at the World Cross Country Championships, Kamworor and Karoki made sure the pace was hot throughout and then Kamworor blasted away over the final 200 meters to win the title by eight seconds.
Kamworor clearly is in better shape than he was two months ago. At Pre, he lost to Tanui by .79 of a second. At the Kenyan Trials, he beat him by 6.56 seconds. But is that enough to drop Farah?
Farah’s 10,000 pb is 26:46 (four seconds faster than Kamworor). And though Kamworor has the edge with a 58:54 half marathon time (#8 all-time), Farah’s 59:32 is still plenty fast. And the race in Beijing next ** is a 10,000 not a half-marathon. Sure the expected hot, humid, smoggy conditions in Beijing in late August will make the 10,000 run more like a 7 mile race but those conditions will also make it exceedingly difficult for Kamworor to push the pace in the low-27:00s/high-26:00s range and hope to have anything left at the end of the race.
The best way for Kamworor (or another athlete, though Kamworor would seem best suited to this strategy) to outlast Farah is to employ the help of a rabbit. Obviously official rabbits are not allowed at Worlds, but if someone were able to help out for the first 6k or so, it would make it easier for Kamworor to only have to push from the front for 10 laps as opposed to 25.
Yet finding anyone willing to do this is incredibly difficult. Karoki was only four seconds behind Kamworor at the Kenyan Trials. Is he willing to sacrifice his race? Likewise, Tanui beat Kamworor at Pre. Is he really going to give up his shot at glory to help someone else? The Ethiopians almost certainly aren’t going to want to set the pace only to see a Kenyan take the victory. And after that, the next two guys who could do it are Farah’s NOP teammates, Galen Rupp and Cam Levins. Good luck getting them to help out. Barring some dictum from Athletics Kenya, it’s unlikely that anyone will be likely to totally sacrifice their race.
The only way this strategy can work is if the Kenyans get together before the race and agree to split pacing duties — say alternating kilometers until 8 or 9k, at which point it’s every man for himself. If Kamworor, Tanui and Karoki decide to each take three kilometers (say 1, 4 and 7 for Kamworor, 2, 5 and 8 for Tanui and 3, 6 and 9 for Karoki), all could stand to benefit without putting themselves at a significant disadvantage relative to each other.
This strategy is still risky, as it’s dependent on everyone feeling good on the day and everyone committing to the plan (ask Almaz Ayana — that doesn’t always work out, or Chris Solinsky).
The good news for distance fans wanting to see Farah challenged in a relentless assault is that the Kenyans have vowed repeatedly this summer that they will work together. Last week, Kamworor was quoted as saying the following in The Nation, “We are talking among ourselves so that we will run as a team and I believe my colleagues are serious on it”, Kamworor said after taking Kirputo on several speed work sessions at the Kasarani team camping venue.
2) Have someone make a hard attack between 800 and 200 to go and force Farah to respond
This strategy may be more better suited to the 5,000 as Farah’s speed advantage isn’t as large in the shorter event as it is in the 10,000. It could still work in the 10,000, but again, this might not work without some collusion between teammates. In Farah’s only loss of 2015, Yomif Kejelcha tried to move by him with 600 to go and then attacked again at the bell, passing Farah and taking the lead. Though Kejelcha eventually faded, he succeeded in wresting control of the race away from Farah, who responded too quickly and with too much force, and Hagos Gebrhiwet was ultimately able to take advantage and pull away in the final 75 meters.
Of course, there are several problems here. First, Kejelcha is 18 years old (he was 17 when he pulled the move on Farah in Doha). It’s one thing for a young guy who doesn’t know any better to almost suicidally attack Farah over the final laps, but would a more experienced racer like want to do something like that? It must be remembered that Kejelcha paid a big price for making such a bold move. He paid for it in the final 200 and ended up fifth.
Additionally, Farah is an extremely smart racer who learns from his mistakes. When Farah lost the 10,000 at Worlds in 2011, he needlessly (in hindsight) opened up a huge gap early on the last lap and was gunned down at the end. He hasn’t done that since.
Watch the last 400 of Farah’s 2011 loss here:
Farah has already shown this summer that he learned a lesson from his Doha loss – don’t respond immediately, just keep it close – you’ve got lots of time, particularly in a 10,000 – don’t go too big, too soon. Mo Farah is a 3:28 1500 runner who just needs to keep it close until the final 150.
In Lausanne on July 9th, Kejelcha moved on Farah late in the race, but Farah showed he’d learned from his loss. Instead of fighting to hold him off as he did in Doha, Farah calmly let him go by before blowing him away in the home stretch. That’s the confidence that comes with five gold medals.
Additionally, who’s to say anyone’s going to have enough left at the end of a 10,000-meter race to make such a move? Maybe speed demons such as Kejelcha or Gebrhiwet could pull it off, but they aren’t in the 10,000. In the 10,000, in terms of speedsters, there’s Tanui (12:58 5,000 PB), Muktar Edris of Ethiopia (12:54) and Imane Merga (12:53, though his PR is from 2010), but they don’t have the kick of Farah.
Bottom line: Farah is going to be incredibly tough to beat in any style of race.
Kamworor can try to grind him to death or someone like Edris (a poor man’s Farah, he has a nice strength/speed combination as he has run 12:54 and was third at World XC) can try to win in a more conventional race. In the end, it may not matter against a man who is making his case as one of the all-time greats.
The Americans: Can Galen Rupp Medal?
We know the Kenyan trio of Kamworor, Tanui and Karoki will be in the medal hunt. So too the Ethiopians, Edris, Merga and Mosinet Geremew, though the Kenyan team is undoubtedly stronger. The question for American fans is, can Galen Rupp bring home another medal in Beijing?
Obviously this hasn’t been the smoothest year for Rupp, on or off the track. Here are a few of the highs and lows of his 2015 season, which to be honest, has been full of many more lows than highs:
January 31: In his first race, Rupp finishes a disappointing fourth in the 2-mile at the Armory Track Invitational in New York, running 8:17.24 as he’s outkicked by Cam Levins (8:15.38), Suguru Osako and Ben Blankenship.
May 29: After a thunderstorm prevents Rupp from debuting outdoors at the Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic on May 14, Rupp runs a solid 13:12.36 for third place behind Yomif Kejelcha and Edwin Soi at the Pre Classic 5,000. It’s his first race for almost four months.
June 3: The BBC/ProPublica release a lengthy article and accompanying documentary accusing Rupp and coach Alberto Salazar of breaking drug rules.
June 24: On the eve of the USATF Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Salazar releases a lengthy response to the accusations, which Rupp will later say he stands by “100%.”
June 28: Rupp squeaks onto the 5,000 team at USAs, edging out Garrett Heath for the final spot by .07 of a second. Ryan Hill and Ben True go 1-2.
August 9: After a six-week break from racing, Rupp finishes a well-beaten fourth in the mile at the Flotrack Throwdown in Portland, running 4:00.45, one place behind 10,000 teammate Hassan Mead.
There are two ways to look at it.
1) That six-week training block after USAs will help propel Rupp to a medal at Worlds. After all, he didn’t race between the Olympic Trials and the Olympics in 2012.
We don’t have a ton of evidence to judge Rupp’s fitness on, but there are a few positive signs. His race at the Pre Classic was solid, as he only lost to Kejelcha and Soi, two of the world’s top 5,000 men. And his 1:58.28 final 800 in the 10,000 at USAs — which would have been faster had he not slowed down near the finish — to close out USAs was incredibly impressive. He dropped Ben True and Hassan Mead, two strong runners, as if it were nothing and cruised to victory. Rupp’s best distance has always been the 10,000 and his performances at that distance the last two years — two USA titles and a 26:44 American record — have been outstanding.
Prior to the Flotrack Throwdown in Portland, Rupp and Salazar spoke to Flotrack and noted how they did not race in Europe this year to keep Rupp fresh for Worlds.
2) Rupp has been off his game all year and won’t win a medal in Beijing
Above, we mentioned how Rupp didn’t race between the Olympic Trials and the Olympics when he earned the silver medal in 2012. But all of his other results pointed to a big performance in London. He PR’d by over four seconds in the 1500 in May (3:34.75) and knocked almost eight seconds off his 5,000 PB in June (12:58.90, his only time ever under 13:00). Then at the Trials he won the 10,000 and came back six days later to claim the 5,000 title — beating reigning Worlds silver medalist Bernard Lagat in the process.
Rupp’s accomplishments in 2015 pale in comparison.
Yes, he was third at Pre in the 5000, but that was a non-Diamond League 5000 and Rupp didn’t beat anyone we expect to challenge for a medal in Beijing. Guess who was 4th at Pre? Bernard Lagat and he’s not even going to Beijing. Yes, Rupp then did destroy everyone in the 10,000 at USAs, but the second and third finishers in that race, Ben True and Hassan Mead, are two Americans who have never even made a Worlds team on the track before. The runner-up True voluntarily gave up his 10,000 spot in Beijing after making the team in the 5,000.
To win a medal at Worlds, Rupp will need to be able to close well, but in his last two races — the 5,000 at USAs and the mile in Portland — Rupp hasn’t done that. His close at USAs was a good sign, but the winning time in that race was 28:11. If Kamworor is driving the pace at Worlds, it’s going to be a lot harder for Rupp to close quickly.
It would be a lot easier to judge Rupp’s chances if he had run a few Diamond League 5,000s. 2014 was Rupp’s best year yet at that distance, as he was top-four in all four of his DL 5,000s, running 13:07 or faster each time. Those performances were a promising sign for his 10,000 hopes this year. If Salazar feels those races wore Rupp down by the end of the year, it’s understandable why he didn’t want Rupp running them again in 2015, but it also robs us of valuable data points regarding Rupp’s current fitness.
All of which makes Worlds extremely interesting in the case of Rupp. A medal is still a possibility, but unless his recent mile was a fluke, Rupp needs to dramatically improve his closing speed in less than two weeks, which is exceedingly difficult to do.
The other two Americans in Beijing, Hassan Mead and Shadrack Kipchirchir (going in the place of True, who elected to run only the 5,000), will both be making their World Championship debuts. Mead, who ran 13:02 last year and 27:33 this year, has made nice progress over the past two years, but his sole European race this summer (13:37 for 13th in Lausanne) left a lot to be desired. Kipchirchir was only 4th at the Pan American Games on July 21, which doesn’t bode well for his chances at Worlds. Top 10 would be a solid showing for Mead; Kipchirchir could maybe manage top 15 on a good day.
LRC Prediction: 1. Farah 2. Kamworor 3. Edris
We are praying that the Africans at least make this one interesting (Farah fans should hope for this as well as it will help him with his legacy if he prevails after an epic African assault from the front) but Farah is too good and wins his third straight global 10,000 title. Rupp doesn’t have the closing speed for a medal this time.
What do you think will happen? Discuss this great race on our world famous fan forum: MB: Official M10,000 Discussion Thread: Can Geoffrey Kamworor (or anyone) stop Mo Farah? Can Galen Rupp medal again?
*Something is telling me the 10000m in Beijing is going to be very reminiscent of the 10000m from Berlin 2009
Also vote in the polls below.
Final – Saturday August 22nd – 8:50 am ET