By Jonathan Gault
April 28, 2019
LONDON — For Mo Farah, this week has been about more than trying to win his first London Marathon. He ensured that the moment he decided to end Wednesday’s opening press conference by informing the world that last month he had over $3,000 and a watch stolen from his room at Yaya Africa Athletics Village, a hotel in Ethiopia owned by distance running legend Haile Gebrselassie.
Farah is no stranger to running under scrutiny. His former coach, Alberto Salazar, was the subject of a BBC/ProPublica investigation in 2015 that alleged Salazar experimented with testosterone and pressured athletes to use prescription medications they didn’t need. In 2016, Farah again faced questions after Jama Aden, who has worked as an “unofficial facilitator” (UK Athletics’ words) in the past for Farah, was arrested in Spain, with authorities finding EPO in the room of one of his physiotherapists. The following year, a leaked interim USADA report revealed that it was “highly likely” that six of Salazar’s Nike Oregon Project athletes violated anti-doping rules at Salazar’s instruction.
Through it all, Farah — who has never been linked to performance-enhancing drugs himself — has continued to perform at the highest levels of the sport. He won double gold at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, double gold again at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and a gold and a silver at the 2017 Worlds in London. Last fall, he won the Chicago Marathon in a European record of 2:05:11. Today he finished fifth in the London Marathon in 2:05:39; it was a solid performance in one of the fastest marathons in history, the first to feature two men under 2:03 and two men under 2:04.
Asked whether he regretted starting the feud with Gebrselassie — who traded allegations with Farah’s camp in the days leading up to the race — Farah didn’t hesitate.
“Not at all,” Farah said. “I don’t regret anything I’ve said and I’ve stood by what I said. And it’s the truth.”
The vibe in the mixed zone was decidedly uncomfortable as discussion quickly shifted from Farah’s performance in the race. (For the record, Farah was pleased with his effort, but said he ultimately could not hold on when the pacemakers dropped and eventual champion Eliud Kipchoge decided to take off, hammering out a string of sub-4:40 miles just after the halfway mark).
Speaking with the media for the first time since his press conference comments on Wednesday, Farah was first asked whether it was true that, as Gebrselassie alleged, he had refused to pay his $3,000 hotel bill. Farah would not confirm that he did.
“If you had all your money stolen, what would you pay with? Nothing,” Farah said. “And the credit card machine doesn’t work.”
Yet Farah said that won’t deter him from returning to Ethiopia for future training camps.
“Why would I change it?” Farah said. “No, not at all. I got great support from text messages from people, big names in athletics. I wouldn’t go back to [Gebrselassie’s] place, but there’s plenty of hotels in [Ethiopia]. I can go back there.”
The awkwardness really kicked off when the Daily Mail’s Riath Al-Samarrai began asking about Farah’s association with Aden — a topic of discussion that resurfaced this week when Gebrselassie said his feud with Farah began when Gebrselassie barred Aden from entering his hotel. A spokesman for Farah told the Daily Mail that Gebrselassie’s claims were “utter nonsense.”
The exchange, which begins at the 2:05 mark of the video below, played out as follows:
Al-Samarrai: I think the most damaging thing that [Gebrselassie] said really, when we look at it, is that this all started with trying to get Jama Aden into the hotel.
Farah: That’s a bit below the belt.
Al-Samarrai: How do you address that?
Farah: That’s a bit below the belt, isn’t it?
Al-Samarrai: Is it untrue?
Farah: It is untrue. And already, you spoke to Gary [Lough], my coach, and my training partner, Bashir [Abdi], who’s run a [Belgian] national record today, can prove it. Jake [Robertson] from New Zealand, who was there, can prove it. At the same time, let’s not talk about it. Let’s talk about the performance of Eliud Kipchoge, can’t take anything away from it.
At this point, one London Marathon PR staffer stated, “last question please.” Al-Samarrai kept going, saying “I think we need more than one” before asking when was the last time Farah saw or spoke to Aden — a timeline that had become muddled after Gebrselassie’s latest allegation.
Another London Marathon PR staffer jumped in, cutting off the question with, “Can we talk about the race here guys?”
Farah then answered a few more questions before the first staffer called out “that’s it, that’s it everybody.” Then Al-Samarrai asked once more about Aden. Finally, with the second PR staffer trying to motion Farah away, there was some blood from the stone:
“I haven’t had any contact with him since 2016,” Farah said, confirming what he reportedly told UK Athletics earlier this week.
One man more than happy to answer questions today was Farah’s coach Gary Lough, who, in contrast to Farah stood in the mixed zone and took questions confidently for around 15 minutes — and hit back at the recent press coverage of Farah when Al-Samarrai asked how Aden’s name keeps resurfacing in regard to Farah:
“Riath, it keeps resurfacing because you bring it up,” Lough said. “Haile was president of the Ethiopian federation. He let Jama Aden coach Genzebe Dibaba. So why’s he coming out and saying stuff like this? Mo Farah has got nothing to do with Jama Aden.
“You keep bringing it up because you feed off Haile’s lies. You seem to take a very one-sided view and the minute he says something, you’re quite happy just to go along with it, and when someone refutes it, you just don’t really pay attention to that. So that’s why, perhaps, I’m a little bit pissed off…I think you’ve just been given a little bit and you’ve gone to town to this guy, and I don’t think it’s fair. I really don’t think it’s fair.
“I spend a lot of time with this guy, day-in, day-out. What you’re trying to portray is not the person that I see. And all these things that he’s been accused of to purely deflect from something else is very unfair…
“If you’re a young athlete in the UK and someone says you’re like a coach and someone says oh I’m from Somalia, of course you know who they are. [Farah] has got lots of friends from Djibouti and stuff and [Aden] happened to be involved in that country and they happened to be in the same place. But Farah had his coach in the US at the time (Salazar), he was doing his own stuff. He cannot stop people being in the same location. But this claim about [Farah] stepped in because [Aden] was barred [from Gebrselassie’s hotel]: utter nonsense. Again, just to bring his name into the equation so that you guys go to town because you feel that there’s historical stuff there.”
Lough wanted to make sure no question from the press went unanswered.
“Is there anything else?” Lough asked. “Is there anything else I haven’t answered?”
It all made for an interesting week in London. Farah is one of Britain’s most decorated athletes — in any sport — and one of the few runners capable of landing on the front/backpages of the local newspapers when he does or says something notable. But this week, much of that coverage centered not around Farah and his impending showdown with Kipchoge — which didn’t turn out to be much of a showdown at all — but his relationships with Gebrselassie and, to a lesser degree, Aden.
One could not help but notice the difference between Farah and Kipchoge — around whom the most controversial question is whether he is simply the greatest marathoner of all time or the greatest runner of all time, period.
So: overzealous coverage from the British press, as Lough would argue? Or necessary reporting? It is a reporter’s job to ask questions, and Farah’s answers about Aden have never been completely satisfying. Where you stand likely depends on what you think about Farah, who he does or doesn’t know, what he may or may have not done.