The doors of the last chance saloon are about to swing shut for Mo Farah’s Olympic qualification hopes, but there is a growing confidence in UK Athletics circles that he is injury-free and can revert to “Classic Mo” in his final attempt to make the Tokyo Games.
The 38-year-old’s chances of defending his Olympic 10,000m title appeared to be ebbing away when he plodded home 22 seconds outside the qualifying time of 27min 28sec at the British trials on 5 June. However, insiders at Font Romeu, where Farah has been training with the Scottish athlete Andy Butchart, say he has recovered from ankle niggle that affected him that night and are optimistic he will qualify for Tokyo at a hastily arranged 10,000m at the British Athletics Championships in Manchester on Friday
That message was reinforced by British 1500m runner Jake Wightman, who watched Farah in a training workout at altitude in Flagstaff last month. “I only saw him do one session,” he said. “It was mad. I’d never seen Mo train before and I think the session he did was as good as any he’d done previously.
“I was telling everybody what good shape he was in and that he was going to fly. Whatever problem he picked up subsequent to that meant it didn’t happen. The pressure is on him now to come out and blow people away. But judging by the form he was in while we were away he can definitely come back to that classic Mo.”
UK Athletics’ decision to put on a special race for Farah, with pacemakers and a select international field, has attracted criticism. But Wightman said he could see the logic, given Farah could add to his four Olympic gold medals.
“People are asking should he be given special circumstances, but for what he’s done in the sport you want to give him as good a chance as possible,” he said. “It’s a big old test for him. But I’m excited. I believe he’ll come out and be a different athlete.”
Farah’s 10,000m is the highlight of the first day of the British Athletics Championships, which feature most of Britain’s big names, including the world 200m champion, Dina Asher-Smith, and the European 1500m gold medallist, Laura Muir. However, for the first time this century the action will not be shown on domestic TV after the BBC declined to put the three-day event on one of its main channels. Instead it will be shown on a basic stream on UK Athletics’ YouTube channel, much to the frustration of many of the sport’s big names.
Asher-Smith, who will race over 100m at the trials, pointed out the sport had endured “heaps of internal changes for us athletes in an Olympic year and now this”. She added: “So much needs to change with track and field over here. So much. The way we tell our narratives, the tone, the atmosphere, fan engagement, event structure and cohesion … So, so much.”
Few would disagree with her assessment, but there is still plenty to excite those who will watch – particularly over the middle distances. The men’s 800m looks particularly intriguing, with four Britons ranked in the world’s top 25 slugging it out for three qualifying places. The 20-year-old Oliver Dustin is the quickest in the field, having run 1min 43.82sec this month – a time bettered outdoors by Seb Coe, Steve Ovett, Steve Cram, Peter Elliott and Andrew Osagie among Britons – but he is by no means guaranteed his place.
Those who will fancy their chances include Elliot Giles, who broke Coe’s British indoor record in February, as well as Jamie Webb and last year’s champion, Daniel Rowden. The only disappointment is that the 19-year-old Max Burgin, who may prove to be the best of a very good bunch, is out through injury.
The women’s 800m looks just as strong, with six competitors having run under two minutes this year. Jemma Reekie is the favourite and the fastest in the field, having recorded 1min 58.27sec last month. But she faces strong competition from Muir, her training partner, as well as the 19-year-old European Indoor champion Keely Hodgkinson.
Three others, Alexandra Bell, Adele Tracey and Ellie Baker, also have chances of making the squad, which will be announced on Tuesday.