Choose a job you love, goes an ancient Chinese proverb, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
For Mo Farah, sitting in the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing last night, beaming in the afterglow of his sixth global title in four years, that phrase was never more relevant.
Because despite the arduous training he endures – despite all the pressure, the scrutiny, the demands now placed on his time – this still doesn’t feel like work for the 32-year-old Briton.
“I feel like it’s my hobby,” he said. “Something that I enjoy doing and I think that’s the key, as an athlete, to enjoy it. Any runner can understand it: to get out the door, go for a jog, come back and relax.”
Amid all the fame, fortune and multiple world and Olympic titles he has accrued, Farah has never forgotten what lies at the heart of his success. “Obviously I run to win medals, but it’s not like I feel like it’s my job,” he added. “I enjoy my athletics and my running.”
Ever since 2012, and that pair of gold medals he won so memorably in the Olympic Stadium in London, Farah’s profile has risen exponentially, giving him a level of fame that only one or two athletes in the sport – maybe Messrs Bolt and Lavillenie – can surpass.
How hard, you wonder, is it to still lead a normal life, given that level of fame?
“It’s been crazy,” he admitted. “Ever since the Olympics my life has changed a lot, but I’m very grateful. It’s what comes along with it and I have to respect that. Sometimes you want to just do something crazy, but you can never do crazy things. I enjoy it though.”
Farah is based in Portland, Oregon, where he has trained under coach Alberto Salazar since his breakthrough at world level in 2011, the year in which he won his first gold medal at the IAAF World Championships over 5000m in Daegu.
Since then, he has not been beaten in a championship setting and after his dismissal of a formidable Kenyan trio with a 54.15 last lap to win the 10,000m on Saturday night, that dominance shows no sign of abating.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said afterwards, despite having made it look exactly that. “On the last lap, I actually thought I was gone, because I stumbled but I managed to stay on my feet. That was the hardest of all my medals.”
Farah was asked, in the absence of any of his rivals coming up with an apparent solution, what tactic he would employ if he was tasked with trying to plot his downfall.
“There’s a few things I could come up with, like working as a team,” he said. “As a country, it was nice to see the Kenyans running as a team, sacrificing their own medal for their teammates. They tried something different this year and it was close, but not quite close enough.”
At the finish, Farah had at least five metres to spare over Kenya’s silver medallist Geoffrey Kamworor who, like so many of Farah’s vanquished rivals over the past four years, got close to the Briton on the final turn but had no answer to his powerful acceleration down the home straight.
If Farah was under pressure at any point, he certainly didn’t show it, running with his renowned patience throughout the 25 laps. It’s a zen-like calm which has been moulded through experience.
“I’ll never have as much pressure as [the 2012 Olympics Games] in London,” he says. “I had the whole nation behind me and it was incredibly hard, so I didn’t feel more pressure here. I was just trying to go out there and show what I can do.”
That he did, to great effect, and afterwards Farah dedicated the win to his family, who were watching back home in Portland. “It would have been nice to have them here, but my wife is expecting,” he said. “I thank them all for supporting me and believing in me so much.”
Farah now has another week to pass before he gets to re-unite with them but before then, the question before him is whether he can complete the 5000m/10,000m double at consecutive IAAF World Championships.
“It’s possible,” he said. “It all depends on resting up, getting through the heat, being there and hopefully doing the same in the (5000m) final.”
After that, he’ll get to return home, play with his kids and generally get his mind off running once again.
In recent months, Farah has taken to playing with a robotic drone in his spare time, a hobby he extracts great enjoyment from, much like his running.
Despite all his success, Farah still approaches his profession with the passion of a painter and the meticulous nature of an architect, and it’s for this reason he’s constructed a career which is being mentioned in the same breath as the all-time greats of the sport.
“I try to tick every box that I can,” he says. “There’s so many guys coming through so you have to be on top of your game and do everything you can to show up ready at the championship.”
Above all, though, the underlying reason for Farah’s success reverts back to that old Chinese proverb.
“I never thought I’d be able to achieve all this,” he says. “I love what I do.”
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF