This time next week Mo Farah will be stepping out on the track in a “competitive” capacity once more. Not since he won the 5,000 meters at the 2017 Diamond League event in Zurich has the 10-time gold medallist raced on a track at a professional event.
AG Memorial Van Damme
The AG Memorial Van Damme in Brussels, on September 4th, does form part of the Diamond League series but will play host to a specially curated 1-hour event, whereby men’s and women’s fields will attempt to break the distance record in that time. The men’s record is currently 21,285m set by Haile Gebrselassie in 2007, and the women’s record currently stands at 18,517m set in 2008 by Dire Tune.
Four-time Olympic gold medallist, and soon to be London Marathon pacer, Farah had announced back in December that he would be targeting a return to the track in 2020, but instead had his eyes on the 10,000 meters at the Tokyo Olympics; A race that would’ve no doubt seen Sir Mo Farah take on recent 5,000 meter world record breaker Joshua Cheptegei. One can’t help but wonder whether the re-scheduling of the Olympics to 2021 and the two respective athletes ages, Farah’s 37 to Cheptegei’s 23, means that the match-up was really a now or never thing.
But to the here and now instead and after the Olympics was cancelled and re-scheduled, the world went into lockdown and we all began looking for a “new-normal”, thoughts quickly turned to what next for athletics. There have been copious amounts of virtual running events for the general public popping up in place of bustling start-lines up and down the country; whilst professional athletics had the Inspiration Games, with athletes in remote locations competing, to kick off the current Diamond League Series, and now this 1-hour event. It is by no means a new concept, even in running, and is regularly contested in other endurance sports such as cycling but it is seldom seen on the running track.
Farah will be aiming for the record alongside his current training partner Bashir Abdi of Belgium. Both athletes have clearly been working hard together at a training camp in Font-Romeu, France, where they’ve been since the end of July.
Whilst the guys out on the tack will be working together, with a competitive twist of course, in a familiar setting, there will still be one huge difference to that of sporting events of years gone by. One that we’ve become all too familiar with over recent months – there will be no spectators – it had been mooted early on in planning that organisers were hopeful that they would be able to accommodate a crowd of 9,000 in the stadium and still abide by restrictions. But, alas, it was announced recently that this was no longer a realistic option and the whole event will be behind closed doors.
It is clearly not the end of the world and it would be preferable, to most, to hold any event under peculiar circumstances instead of cancelling them outright. But, that being said, you still have to wonder how much the crowd would play apart in a spectacle such as this. In a sport where any slight and miniscule advantage is measured, exploited and hopefully bottled for future use, the cheering and baying of a packed out stadium, willing an athlete over the line when his legs have long stopped cannot be underestimated. Then again neither can Mo Farah.