In February 2011, Mo Farah shocked the track world by announcing that he would move to Portland, Oregon, to train under Alberto Salazar as a member of the Oregon Distance Project. Salazar’s love of cutting edge training methods, emphasis on small, incremental, development, and strong record with protégée, Galen Rupp, proved too much for Farah to pass up as he looked towards the Olympics in his home nation of Great Britain.
The move meant Farah could literally train in Nike’s backyard under the tutelage of one of America’s finest distance coaches. By Farah choosing to go to the US for his Olympic build up, he was effectively endorsing the United States as the latest hotbed of distance running…or at least training for distance running.
But this blog isn’t about listing why the US is great and why Mo Farah was smart to leave Great Britain. This blog is about how the US can be better by becoming more like Great Britain—the Britain of the 1980s in middle distance running.
Yet we are missing an element of drama, even desperation for achievement, that I believe will take us from relevance to prominence.
We need to take a page out of Great Britain’s book and promote healthy domestic rivalries that allow us to sustain a high level of competition in non-Olympic years. Additionally, chasing records in the ‘down’ years will give US athletes tangible goals to pursue in the short run and create savvy, battle-tested, racers in the long run. I’m not saying US runners don’t do this already, but Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett, and Steve Cram took rivalries and record chasing to a whole new level.
This fierce domestic rivalry ultimately brought out the best in the athletes and allowed Great Britain to maximize its number of medals on the world stage.
Well, maybe I didn’t know that he’d have a shot at a world podium spot when he won NCAA’s, but definitely when he beat Lagat a few weeks later to become US champion.
Being the best in the US is a worthy pursuit deserving of international recognition, just as being the best in Great Britain was one of the highest honors in the sport decades ago. Taking down US records must be the biggest priority in non-Olympic years so that eventually we can set our sights on loftier goals.
We have long been hearing about the running renaissance in the US; now it is time to make that a reality by adopting the same attitude as Great Britain 30 years ago. History can be our guide and rivalry our motivator. What elevated Coe, Ovett, and Cram to legendary status can do the same for the next generation of great American milers.