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24 Jul MoBottle: Farah cop-out leaves bad taste in the mouth

Article by Chris Rainsford

So, the 2014 Commonwealth Games got underway at a packed Celtic Park yesterday and a mere twelve hours later the latest big-name track and field athlete has dropped out. Annoyingly for fans on these shores, it was double-Olympic champ Mo Farah.

Billy Connolly narrated and asked “what would the world make of Glasgow?” It’s a shame but comes as no real surprise at all that Farah has become the latest high-profile name not willing or “ready” to find out.

Whilst the Commonwealth Games is a competition hardly high up on any elite athletes list of priorities, for some as much “a curious colonial vestige with some of the pomp and circumstance of the Olympics minus most of the heavy hitters” as anything else, according to Christopher Clarey in the New York Times, the way the whole scenario has played out has left a bad taste in the mouth.

Farah’s announcement of his withdrawal just three days before what was supposed to be his first of two events – the 5,000m final at Hampden Park – has been in the pipeline ever since he committed to his marathon debut eighteen months ago.

When Farah fought off claims of money-grabbing to run just half the London Marathon in 2013 – billed as vital preparation for his assault on the full distance earlier this year – he admitted the Commonwealths weren’t “on his list” and that his priorities lay with the marathon in 2014. Undoubtedly, and quite rightly, the plan was always to wait and see how he came off the back of London before making the call on his participation in Glasgow.

But after announcing in May that he would indeed race in Glasgow – just weeks after his 2:08.21 debut in London – Farah has gone on to toe the line just once this summer in a 5000m race won comfortably in Portland, Oregon last month in 13:23.42. Illness put him out of the Sainsbury’s Glasgow Grand Prix two weeks ago, with that setback and all that it entailed the reason cited for his latest withdrawal.

As Steve Cram has already pointed-out, the standard at the sharp-end in Glasgow is likely to be too sharp for Farah in his current state, with Commonwealth athletes posing more of a threat to his already penetrated aura of invincibility than the Europeans might in Zurich next month. Farah will not have wanted to risk his reputation and status further; a status already diminished slightly, in some people’s eyes, following the eighth-place finish on his marathon debut.

Whilst training, illness and injuries can be unforeseen, even within the confines of the Nike Oregon Project set-up, he’s flirted with attending and not attending all summer and now joins a growing list of English athletes suddenly withdrawing from the Games just as they get going.

Mo’s non-appearance is a kick in the teeth for organisers, fans and England Athletics, who saw another gold medal hope, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, pull-out on medical advice earlier in the week. Both still harbour hopes, however, of being fit to compete at the European Championships that start in Zurich on August 12th.

With Chris Thompson also pulling out of the 10,000m to less fanfare just two days before, Liverpool’s Jonny Mellor will line up as England’s sole representative over twenty-five laps.

Was Farah ever going to run in Glasgow? Was his initial confirmation in May purely for publicity-purposes? Why did Farah apparently put doubts over his participation to bed with this tweet two days after a BBC article saying there was still “high availability” for the 5,000m final?

& that’s probably the most disappointing thing. More than the double-Olympic gold medallist not competing and giving the sport in this country the shot of good-press and success it needs, it’s the way his camp and the media have seemingly taken the public for granted and played the punters that have paid to see him compete in Glasgow for fools.

Not to say we should put all our faith or hopes in Farah but, at a time when the public’s enthusiasm for athletics is at a low, the Games (plus, fans and Team England) needed his star turn. As the BBC give the Games the “full London 2012 treatment” in its wall-to-wall coverage, it should have been an opportunity for the household names to help popularise the sport, albeit at a “lesser-Games”, on home shores again.

Alas, Mo won’t be there and new heroes can step up. Either that, or the cracks that Farah has helped paper-over during the last few years will be exposed.

Main image from Twitter