September 1, 2016
Before we finally forget about Rio 2016 and turn our attention to the two Diamond League finales, first on Thursday in Zurich (preview here), then next Friday in Brussels, we wanted to give a little more insight from Rio.
Over the weekend, we asked ourselves, ‘Were there any interesting things that we learned from actually being in Rio and interacting with the athletes in the mixed zone and the press conferences that you likely would have missed if you were watching at home via TV?’ We’ve come up with two.:
1) Mo Farah really does not like answering questions about his relationship with Jama Aden.
2) Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce doesn’t like talking about Usain Bolt after she loses a race.
First, Farah. He cemented his legacy as the greatest track distance runner of his era by completing his second 10,000m-5,000m Olympic double and now some want him to be knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. Farah is a likable, at times funny, guy when he interacts with the press. It is clear he wants the media to like him and give him praise, but not all journalists give him the adoration he desires. Irish freelance journalist Ewan MacKenna made sure at both the 10,000m and 5,000m press conferences that Farah didn’t just get softball questions. At both press conferences, MacKenna asked Farah about his association with Jama Aden, the Somali-born coach who was arrested earlier this summer after a doping raid took place at the hotel he and his athletes were staying at in Spain and EPO was found in some of the rooms. Farah has never officially been coached by Aden. UK Athletics said Aden was an “unofficial facilitator” for Farah at a training camp in 2015, and pictures have shown Aden and Farah and UK Performance Director Barry Fudge together in 2016.
After the 10,000m MacKenna and Farah had this exchange:
MacKenna: I was wondering as someone who preaches clean athletics, I was wondering about your association, and repeatedly, your association with people from [Alberto] Salazar to John Smith to [Jama] Aden. And secondly, in terms of Aden, when you explained it, you said he was just holding a stopwatch for you yet his daughter on Twitter today was posting pictures of you having dinner at his house and she said and I quote, ‘We’re very good friends and my dad trains with him.’
Farah: Sorry, who’s that?
MacKenna: Jama Aden.
Farah: Obviously, you know it’s a small sport… There’s so many athletes by getting pictures of them — obviously you’re taking a picture, you’re not going to say no, are you? So it doesn’t mean you train with them. Obviously, I believe in clean sport and you do what you can but at the same time you can only control what you do yourself.
MacKenna, when describing the exchange in the Sunday Times, wrote “Mo Farah looked shaken. He eased forward to the edge of his seat, twitched, and forced the sort of smile that suggested he was anything but happy. Worse still, his words sounded shaky as well.”
LRC wouldn’t say Farah looked shaken, but would say Farah’s tone and demeanor changed in response to the question. Farah definitely wasn’t happy.
Farah did not fully answer MacKenna’s question about Aden. To be fair to Farah, there isn’t a lot of back and forth at press conferences and Farah may not have heard the first part about Aden’s daughter saying Aden and Farah were friends, but regardless Farah wanted to give the impression that Aden is just a guy he had taken a few selfies with when most people who follow the sport would say that is not that case.
After Farah won the 5,000m a week later, MacKenna gave Farah another chance to clarify the relationship with Aden.
Farah initially stuck to the angle of their relationship being one of selfies saying, “There are so many people on the circuit, so if people come up and ask a picture, are you going to say no? I have no association with him.”
This time, MacKenna pressed Farah noting a former Nike Oregon Project official ran into Aden at an indoor meet and said Aden described them as “close friends”.
When pressed on the issue, and other claims that Aden had been described as a “close friend”, Farah got a bit more defensive: “He’s not a close friend of mine. Obviously, I see him on the circuit, say hi. I’ve got a lot of respect for everyone in the circuit, it’s a small circuit, and everyone knows each other.”
Still he was pressed further to clarify.
“He’s not a friend of mine. I’ve been competing since I was 12 years old, and you can’t lie about it. You see people on the circuit, you see coaches, and that’s all it is. I don’t know why you’re making a big deal out of it. I’d totally understand if he was my coach, or someone I was so close with, fair enough, but I’m not close with him. I see him on the circuit, take pictures with him, does that make me a bad guy?
“I never want to see anything bad in my sport, but we just have to continue winning, and having faith. What we’re doing now is good, we’re doing blood [testing], urine [testing], whatever it takes, it’s a good thing.”
Farah may not be close with Aden, but they do appear to be more than random acquaintances on the circuit. Since Rio, the Twitter handle Mo’s Doorbell has pointed out that Farah mentions training with Aden’s group in Kenya in a section of his 2014 autobiography where he talks about coaches “dispensing advice” to him and how “we had known each other for years.”
— Mo's Doorbell (@MoDoorbell) August 25, 2016
Farah may not like people trying to associate him with Aden, a coached linked to an EPO raid, but failing to clarify the extent of their relationship does not help in the court of public opinion.
Farah was much more relaxed when asked about the relationship with his coach Alberto Salazar, who himself is under investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, than he was when asked questions about Aden. The dichotomy in Farah’s demeanor when asked questions about Aden and Salazar was noticeable.
As for Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the diminutive Jamaican was going for her third straight Olympic 100m title in Rio but came up short. After the 100m she was asked if the women felt less pressure because of all the attention Usain Bolt gets. Nick Zacardi of NBC Sports recapped her answer well, “Well, this is the press conference for the women’s 100-meter finals, and Elaine just won and [American] Tori [Bowie] got the silver medal,” Fraser-Pryce said with force. “I think the spotlight is on us tonight.”
Then, when the Jamaican women’s 4×100 team was beaten by the United States, Fraser-Pryce and the entire Jamaican women’s team was asked whether they would be celebrating with Bolt afterward. Fraser-Pryce didn’t bother even saying a few congratulatory words about Bolt (neither did any of the other women). Instead, all four stared blankly ahead for 10 seconds before Fraser-Pryce said the men’s press conference was next. She clearly did not want to talk about Usain Bolt.