The start of these London Olympic Games marks the 24 year anniversary of Peter Elliott’s silver medal run for Great Britain in the 1500 meters at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Elliot’s run came at the tail end of what was the greatest distance/middle distance running era of all time for Great Britain. The 1980s saw an impressive 9 medals for Great Britain in events ranging from the 800 meter run to the marathon. The two most prominent names during this period were without a doubt Sebastian Coe, now Lord Coe, and Steve Ovett. Between the ’80 games and the ’84 games, Coe secured an impressive two gold medals in the 1500 meter run and two silver medals in the 800 meter run. Ovett edged Coe in the 800 meter run at the ’80 games to take gold, and also took home the bronze medal in the 1500 meter run. The other medals came from Steve Cram, who took home silver in the 1500 at the ’84 games behind Coe, Charlie Spedding, who took home bronze in the marathon in ’84, and Elliott.
Not only will these London games mark the 24th anniversary of Elliott’s run, but also 24 years without any sort of distance or middle distance running Olympic medals for Great Britain. Needless to say, the last 24 years have been less than lackluster for this once great powerhouse of track and field. The nation the brought you the first sub-4 mile, numerous world records from Coe, Ovett, and Cram, and 9 Olympic medals in the 80s has failed to produce much of anything in the distance running department lately. What the hell happened? Some may argue that the distances are much more difficult now due to the rise of the East Africans, but the times that Cram, Coe, and Ovett put up would still rival those of the top runners today. Coe was the first man to go sub 1:42 for the 800 and Cram was the first to run under 3:30 in the 1500 which are both much better than any British runners of late. Though I’m sure for the last 20 years that any true British track and field fanatics have struggled to get out of bed in the morning, only to face another montage of subpar distance running, the last few years have shown the emergence of a possible light at the end of the tunnel.
The light comes in the form of a Somalian born British superstar by the name of Mohamed Farah, and it couldn’t come any sooner. The games of the 30th Olympiad mark the third time that London has hosted the games; the only city to have done so. For a nation still trying to recover from the loss of large quantities of tea to the Boston Harbor back in the late 1700s (don’t underestimate how much Brits value tea), this 24 year drought in distance medals has just added insult to injury. You may think that this is just karma coming back around to hit the nation responsible for some of the harshest colonial rule in history, but haven’t they been through enough already?
Though Farah may not be British born, he has lived in England since the age of 8 where he was educated and raised. I’d say this exempts him from the list of professional athletes who have switched citizenship to run for another country. He even has a British accent and you just can’t fake that (as is evident by Ryan and Alex’s failed attempts at British accents in the most recent installments of the Run Junkie series). Farah has always been good, but last year proved to be a real breakthrough year for the 29 year old Brit. Farah posted times of 12:53 for the 5k, 26:46 for the 10k. He proved that he could do more than time trial at the World Championships where he took home silver in the 10k and gold in the 5k. These accolades make him one of the favorites for both events in London. His PB from the 10k last season would put him 15 seconds ahead of anybody this year in the 10k. His 5k, while still impressive, is a little further down on the list, but Farah still seems plenty confident in his ability. When asked about the Paris Diamond League 5k, Farah told The Guardian “if these guys are running that, I should be able to run a much faster time.” He may not have to, though. Farah has proven to be a great racer, not having lost a 5k in quite a while, and the Olympics usually prove to be tactical. Unlike the Diamond League meetings, the Olympics won’t have any pacemakers and I don’t think we will see anybody go to the front to push a sub 12:50 pace from the gun. This kind of confidence is what you want to see from the man looking to follow up a World Championship gold with Olympic gold.
With Radcliffe out of the marathon, the distance running hopes of a once dominant nation now rest solely on the shoulders of this man. Having expressed interest in moving to the marathon, this may be the last time we see Farah on the track and Great Britain can only hope for one last hurrah on the mondo. So, is Farah Britain’s next great hope? While he may not be able to single handedly top the era of Coe, Cram, and Ovett, a few Olympic medals wouldn’t be a bad place for him to start.