From afar, does Mo seem skittish to you? Could be that he’s never been more prepared, and is just raring to go. Or, does the prospect of staring down Eliud Kipchoge, the Kenyan master, have him unsettled?
After four Olympic gold medals and six world titles, you’d expect an athlete of Mo’s experience to be beyond such considerations. But Eliud Kipchoge is deep, deep water. There is a serenity about him, a regal presence that Farah, for all his Olympic and World Championship hardware, doesn’t naturally posses. Very few do.
There’s just an aura about certain people, and Kipchoge has it. Maybe 10 wins in 11 marathon starts, including the world record and the Olympic gold medal, develops such grace.
In contrast, there was Mo over at the London Marathon expo slap-dashing around trying to jump on the moving treadmill belt set at WR pace and flopping like a fish while an average Joe alongside in the next lane looked over startled by the tomfoolery. All in good fun, or a sign of nerves?
This, you could say, is truly a mano a mano contest between two of the highest profile runners of their era. The kind of potential crossroads match-race we rarely see in this sport.
Yet, we can’t simply overlook the strong supporting cast, which could just as easily screw the pooch, too. Shura Kitata took second place in London last year over Farah in third, and then challenged Lelisa Desisa deep into Central Park last November in New York City before succumbing 2:05:59 to 2:06:01, the second and third-fastest times ever on New York’s bridge-humped layout.
And folks ignore Mosinet Geremew at their peril. He earned podium positions in both Chicago and Berlin and carries a tender PB of 2:04-flat from Dubai.
But this is Mo coming into his hometown as a fully realized marathoner. He took third and first in London and Chicago last year in his first full year concentrating on the longer distance. He’s had three London starts, too, first in 2013 to halfway just for experience. Then in 2014 for his actual debut, he took eighth in 2:08:21. So he’s taken a measure of the course, the distance, and the man, as well.
Mo was down training in Ethiopia since January, staying at Haile Gebrselassie’s Yaya Village outside Addis Ababa.
His 61:15 tuneup win March 10th at the Big Half in London was 25-seconds faster than last year, and right where you wanted to be six weeks out.
But his training partner Abdi Abdirahman did not run that great in Boston, though not bad either (27th, 2:18:56), especially for a master (over 40). But you know he was expecting better.
How your training mates do in the races before you go is always instructive, even though Abdi and Mo weren’t doing the same workouts. We saw Aliphine Tuliamuk run a six-minute personal best in Rotterdam the week before her Northern Arizona Elite teammate Scott Fauble went to Boston to lay down his 2:09:09 three-minute personal best.
Then there’s that TMZ-like spat Mo’s been having with Geb about alleged incidents at the Yaya training camp. Some comments I’ve read say the media has over-inflated the story. But accusations have been flying from both sides and it’s disruptive to the focus major marathoning requires.
To assume those off-center signals won’t indicate on Sunday, is to be generously optimistic.
As we saw in Boston two weeks ago, the differences at this highest level are razor thin. All it takes is a loss of focus on race weekend, and the difference is made. Especially when you are going up against the Zen Master himself.